MONACO (AP) – Monaco braced for the worst as Prince Rainier III appeared Saturday to be losing his fight against heart, lung and kidney failure, with his doctors increasingly pessimistic about the chances of survival for the 81-year-old ruler of one of Europe’s oldest dynasties.

Pope John Paul II, himself struggling with poor health, sent a message of support for Rainier, who has overseen the tiny Mediterranean principality for more than a half-century.

As the prince spent a fifth straight day in intensive care, the palace issued its most pessimistic statement yet on his prospects for survival, saying his prognosis was “extremely reserved.” A similar news release Friday did not use the word “extremely.”

“Despite the most appropriate care and control of the broncho-pulmonary infection,” a palace health report said, “the cardiac, lung and kidney functions are progressively deteriorating.”

The prince’s health “does not stop worsening,” said the bulletin, which was signed by three doctors.

Rainier’s three children – Caroline, Albert and Stephanie – continued to take turns visiting the hospital. Caroline’s two sons, Andrea and Pierre, accompanied their mother to his bedside on Saturday.

Rainier, whose movie-star wife, Grace Kelly, died in a car crash in 1982, has suffered ill health in recent years and was hospitalized at the Cardio-Thoracic Center on March 7 with a chest infection. He was transferred to the intensive care unit Tuesday.

The pope sent a special blessing to Rainier, the palace said Saturday, saying he was united with the prince “in thoughts and prayer” and offering his heartfelt wishes.

“Entrusting in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the pope asks the Lord to give you comfort and the support of grace and accords the prince and his family a special apostolic blessing,” said the pontiff’s message, sent Friday.

Rainier, who has ruled Monaco since 1949, is beloved in the principality he transformed into a modern and elegant enclave for the rich.

“All we can do is hope for the best,” said Bruno Paillet, 41, a waiter sitting in a cafe reading a front-page article in Monaco-Matin newspaper with the headline: “Rainier: Serious state confirmed.”

“Oh, it’s going to be sad, very sad,” he said, pausing to look up from his newspaper.

The Mediterranean principality, meanwhile, was packed with visitors for Easter weekend. Tourists posed for pictures in front of the Bentleys, Rolls-Royce and Ferraris that filled the priority parking places outside the famed Monte Carlo Casino. Inside, roulette wheels were spinning throughout the day.

Tourists also clogged the windy streets of old Monaco, where Rainier’s family huddled inside the royal palace – away from photographers.

Some Monaco residents were coming to grips with the possibility that the era under the only monarch they have ever known may be winding to a close.

“I can’t bring myself to think of his replacement,” said Christine Garcia, 46, as she pushed a stroller holding her twins. “It is the type of person that you want to live forever.”

Rainier’s family, the Grimaldis, have ruled Monaco for more than 700 years. However, Albert – long groomed to assume Rainier’s mantle as monarch – has not married, raising concerns about heirs. In 2002, Monaco changed its succession law to allow power to pass from a reigning prince who has no descendants to his siblings.

Albert, 47, would take the title His Serene Highness. Princess Caroline, 48, would be next in line to the throne, followed by her oldest son Andrea, now 20.


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