In his native Poland, Pope John Paul II remains the object of devotion in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. Millions of Poles have been attending vigils and masses to pray for the ailing pontiff.

The churches of Poland are overflowing with the faithful, as they pray for Pope John Paul II, revered by many Poles as a national hero who liberated them from communism.

Among the most fervent followers of John Paul II are the parishioners of the cathedral in the southern city of Krakow, where the pope - then known as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla - ran the archdiocese prior to his election to the papacy.

1st woman: "We have to be with him. We want to be with him."

2nd woman: "He said that we should be together, so we want to show him how much we love him."

During the course of his papacy, John Paul has visited Poland nine times.

On his first visit as pope, in 1979, millions of Poles attended papal events around the country in defiance of the Communist authorities. John Paul's tour helped inspire the Solidarity trade union movement that rose up to challenge Communist rule.

The former Solidarity leader and Nobel laureate, Lech Walesa, who went on to become president of post-Communist Poland, says that, without the pope's support, the struggle against communism would have been long and bloody.