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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pope John Paul II, 1920-2005

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II died Saturday night, succumbing finally to years of illness endured painfully and publicly, ending an extraordinary, if sometimes polarizing, 26-year reign that remade the papacy.

He died at 9:37 p.m. in his apartment three stories above St. Peter's Square, as tens of thousands of the faithful gathered within sight of his lighted window for a second night of vigils, amid millions of prayers for him from Roman Catholics around the world as his health declined rapidly.

People wept and knelt on cobblestones as the news of his death spread across the square, bowing their heads to a man whose long and down-to-earth papacy was the only one that many young and middle-aged Catholics around the world remembered. For more than 10 minutes, not long after his death was announced, the largely Roman crowd simply applauded him.

"I have looked up to this man as a guide, and now it is like a star that has suddenly disappeared," said Caeser Aturi, 38, a priest from Ghana, which the widely traveled pope visited in 1980, on a continent where the Roman Catholic Church grew sizably under his reign.

On Sunday morning, tens of thousands again gathered in the square for a commemorative Mass. As they waited on stones still spattered with colorful wax from last night's candlelight vigil, video screens flashed pictures of the pope bearing the inscription "In Your Hands."

"Our soul is shaken by a painful fact," said Cardinal Angelo Sodano in his homily. "Our father, shepherd, John Paul II, has left us."

The pope's body was displayed at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Sunday, giving a mourning world its first glimpse of the pontiff since his death. His remains were clad in crimson vestments, and his head was covered with a white bishop's miter. The expression on his face appeared peaceful but pained.

He was born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland.

Hospitalized twice since Feb. 1 and suffering for a decade from Parkinson's disease, John Paul's health hit its last crisis Thursday, when the Vatican announced that a urinary tract infection had caused a high fever and unstable blood pressure.

The next day, his kidneys and cardio-respiratory system began to fail. On Saturday morning, his chief spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, announced grimly that the pope had begun to fade from consciousness.

His last hours were spent, Navarro-Valls said in a statement early on Sunday, by "the uninterrupted prayer of all those who surrounded him."

At 8 p.m., Mass was celebrated in his room, the statement said, and he was administered the final Catholic rite for the sick and dying for the second time, having already received it on Thursday.

He was surrounded at his death by a close circle of aides from Poland: his two personal secretaries, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz and Monsignor Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki; Cardinal Marian Jaworski, Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko; the Reverend Tadeusz Styczen, as well as three Polish nuns who have long worked in his residence. His personal doctor, Renato Buzzonetti, two other doctors and two nurses were also there. He was 84 years old.

After a doctor certifies his death, tradition calls for the Vatican camerlengo, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, who will run the Vatican until a new pope is chosen, to call out his baptismal name three times.

He then strikes the pope's forehead with a silver hammer to ensure he is dead. The hammer is then used to destroy the papal ring, the symbol of his authority.

The Vatican said Sunday that the pope had died of blood poisoning and the collapse of his blood vessels.

The Vatican said his body would lie in state at St. Peter's Basilica on Monday. The funeral -- to be attended by leaders from all over the world -- will be held Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

John Paul will likely be interred aside other popes inside the subterranean grottoes at St. Peter's Basilica.

No sooner than 15 days after his death, and no later than 20, most of the 117 voting members of the College of Cardinals will meet in secrecy below the frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel to decide who will be the next pope.

They will be, by long tradition, cut off from the outside world during their deliberations, though now in a new $20 million residence, outfitted like a hotel, built by John Paul on the Vatican grounds.

They cannot make phone calls, read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio. All but three of the cardinals were appointed by John Paul and to some extent share his conservative views, but there is no guarantee the next pope will be chosen in his image.

"Always follow a fat pope with a skinny pope," goes a typically knowing old Roman saying.

Some Vatican watchers call it the "pendulum effect," in which cardinals seek to restore a balance -- or to correct faults in the previous pope -- as they work, in the words of one papal expert, to answer the question: What sort of pope do we need for what sort of world?

There is, at the moment, no favorite in the running, no single, obvious inheritor to John Paul II's formidable legacy. In theory, the cardinals can select any baptized Catholic male for the job, but in practice, it will almost certainly be one of them.

As with the selection of many popes -- among them, Wojtyla, who introduced himself to Rome as John Paul II on Oct. 16, 1978, in adept Italian -- it is possible the new pope will be a surprise, virtually unknown to most Catholics when the white smoke announcing his election rises from a chimney on the roof above the Sistine Chapel.