Pope John Paul II died today at his home in the Vatican. The 84 year old pontiff died at 9.37pm (local time). News of his death was first relayed by email to waiting journalists from around the world and then formally announced to the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square. "Our Holy Father John Paul has returned to the house of the Father," Archbishop Leonardo Sandri told the crowd. "We all feel like orphans tonight but our faith teaches us that those who believe in the Lord live in him," added Archbishop Renato Boccardo. US President George Bush led tributes to the third longest serving Pontiff in the Church's history. In a televised statement from the White House he said: "The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd. The world has lost a champion of human freedom....a good and faithful servant of God has been called home". Pope John Paul II's health had been deteriorating for the past two years. Despite having Parkinsons Disease he continued his work. He had an operation in February to ease serious respiratory problems and seemed to make a slight recovery until last Thursday when he developed an infection and high fever. When told of his condition the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics for the past 26 years was reported to have told aides that he did not want to return to hospital, preferring to stay "at home". The Pope's body will return to the Vatican to lie in state on Monday before being laid to rest in the crypt underneath St. Peter's Basilica.
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