John Paul II, the Polish-born pope whose strong-willed activist papacy helped unravel the Soviet Union and redefined the office's relationship to the world as he led the billion-member Catholic Church, died Saturday (April 2) at the age of 84.

John Paul's death ended a pontificate of more than a quarter century. He was the longest-serving pope of the 20th century and the third-longest in history after St. Peter and Pope Pius IX.

He died at about 9:37 p.m. (2:37 EST). Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, Argentine deputy secretary of state and a member of the papal household, announced the death to tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square to say the Rosary prayer on behalf of their beloved pontiff.

On Sunday, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, will preside over a Mass in St. Peter's Square for the repose of the pope's soul. The Vatican said John Paul's body is expected to be taken to St. Peter's Basilica no later than Monday afternoon. That same day, the College of Cardinals will hold its first meeting to decide the date of the pope's funeral and the opening of the conclave of cardinals that will choose his successor.

Ailing from Parkinson's disease and rapidly declining health in his last week, the pope succumbed to heart and kidney failure after a bacterial infection weakened his body. His fate seemed sealed when aides administered the Sacrament of Anointing, or last rites, on Thursday (March 31).

Though John Paul had weathered ill health for several years, he took a downward turn on Feb. 1 when he was hospitalized with the flu. An emergency breathing tube inserted three weeks later allowed him to recover enough to return to the Vatican for Holy Week and Easter, although he was too weak to preside or ...

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