AP Photos MCO101-103

By JOCELYN GECKER

Associated Press Writer

MONACO (AP) – Monaco marked Easter Sunday with special prayers for ailing Prince Rainier III, who was conscious but fighting for his life, as his heart, lungs and kidneys stabilized after days of decline. The palace stressed that the health prospects of Europe’s longest-reigning ruler remain worrisome.

The 81-year-old monarch, who has governed the world’s second-smallest independent state for more than half a century, remained on a respirator, but the announcement Sunday from the royal palace carried a note of optimism just a day after doctors issued a grave medical report.

“The cardiac, lung and kidney functions that did not stop deteriorating have stabilized,” the palace said in its latest health update, signed by three doctors.

Rainier “is conscious but under sedation, which allows him to withstand respiratory assistance that is absolutely indispensable,” the statement said.

The prognosis “remains very reserved, however,” the palace said – apparently one level less severe than the “extremely reserved” judgment given by doctors Saturday.

Of the near daily statements the palace has issued since the prince was moved Tuesday into an intensive care unit, Sunday’s was the first to say that Rainier was conscious, fueling questions about whether he had been unconscious before. A palace spokesman said he did not know whether Rainier had lapsed in and out of consciousness.

The medical update came as worshippers attended Easter Mass and prayed for the prince. As is family tradition, his three children – Albert, Caroline and Stephanie – celebrated Mass in the privacy of the palace chapel, away from photographers. They continued to take turns visiting Rainier at the hospital Sunday.

Monaco’s 32,000 people are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. While a prayer for the prince is part of every Sunday Mass, this week’s had special significance. The program for the Mass carried a prayer written in Latin: “God protect our Prince Rainier and answer our prayers in this time that we call on you.”

At the Monaco Cathedral, where the prince married American movie star Grace Kelly in 1956 and where she is now buried, some sat in pews reading the Monaco-Matin newspaper before Mass. “Prince Rainier: The Worst Ever,” read the front-page headline, referring to Saturday’s grim prognosis.

Archbishop Bernard Barsi, in his call to prayer, said the health of both Rainier and of ailing Pope John Paul II “worries us greatly.”

“I invite all the faithful to pray to the Lord for these two exceptional men that God gave us: One to oversee the destiny of Monaco, the other to lead the Catholic Church,” Barsi said.

As worshippers wished one another a happy Easter, many expressed relief upon hearing that his condition may have improved.

“It’s good news, really wonderful,” Roger Durdilly said as he exited the cathedral.

Elsewhere, strangers curious about the prince’s health stopped one another in the street to discuss the latest update. Some cautioned against reading too much into it.

“It’s not an improvement, it means he’s stopped declining,” said Thierry Bauduin, who runs a newsstand near Monaco’s yacht-clogged marina. “Tomorrow, maybe he’ll be worse. Maybe he’ll better. Let’s wait and see.”

Paulo Bomollo, a 60-year-old Italian who lives in Monaco, said he believed the prince’s health was “worse than serious … I think they are waiting for Easter weekend before announcing the bad news.

“I think we’re close to the end.”

Rainier, who has suffered from bouts of sickness in recent years, was hospitalized at Monaco’s Cardio-Thoracic Center on March 7 with a chest infection. He was transferred to the intensive care unit when his health took a sudden turn for the worse.

Rainier, who has ruled Monaco since 1949, is beloved in the principality, which is smaller than New York City’s Central Park and larger than only one other independent state – Vatican City. The Grimaldi dynasty has ruled Monaco for more than 700 years, but Rainier is credited with transforming it into a modern and elegant enclave known as a playground for the rich.

Rainier’s son, Prince Albert, 47, is being groomed as a successor. Since Albert has no children, his sister, Princess Caroline, 48, would be next in line to the throne, followed by her eldest son, Andrea, now 20.

Rainier never remarried after the death of Princess Grace and is often pictured at official functions alone or alongside family members. Biographers have said he never fully recovered from a broken heart.


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