VATICAN CITY—Vatican officials joyously report that Pope John Paul II, who led the Catholic Church during the 26 years of his larval stage, emerged from his chrysalis transformed into a beautiful butterfly Monday.

"John Paul II's emergence was a thing of awesome splendor, his magnificent wings of gold-embroidered silk brocade glistening in the late light of the Basilica as they dried," said Antonini Biaggi, one of the millions who came to Rome to view the pope's chrysalis as it lay in state under the great dome. "I was greatly blessed to see him break free of his outer husk, and then, minutes later, take his first tentative flight around the Vatican."

Roughly two weeks ago, as the pope's metabolism began slowing, John Paul II's attendants reported that the pontiff's outer skin was hardening and becoming more opaque. Despite his weakened condition, His Holiness began to eat his own weight in mulberry leaves every day, storing up energy for his astonishing transformation.

On April 2, when John Paul II' s life functions ceased, he was transferred to a plain cypress molting box, inside of which he lay in state in St. Peter's Basilica. For the next few days, as worshippers and powerful world leaders alike came to pay their respects, the Vicar of Christ underwent the first stages of metamorphosis. Now completely covered with a hardened red-velvet-and-gilt outer shell, he had entered the papal pupal stage.

"It was a time of great mourning," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of London, a Grand Intercessor of the Church and a trained pontifical lepidopterist. "After all, His Holiness' survival into the short-lived adult phase was not guaranteed. Not every pope makes the transformation—we still mourn the great tragedy of John Paul I."

Although the pope's long, early stage of life as the Chosen God on Earth is over, his new stage began at the moment of his passing.

Continued Murphy-O'Connor: "Inside his chrysalis, John Paul II's thorax was lengthening, his mandibles stretching and dividing into a four-part lateral jaw, his eyes dividing into many-faceted, compound sight-organs, and his once vestigial and subcutaneous limb-buds were growing into the four beautiful wings—and six limbs—of the adult pontiff. No longer truly one of us, John Paul II was becoming something closer to the divine. It's one of the most wondrous processes in, and symbols of, the Catholic Church."

"Also, I'm told much acute and pious suffering is involved," Murphy-O'Connor added.

The newly reborn pope spent most of Monday flitting about the Eternal City, alighting briefly on Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" fresco in the Sistine Chapel, various colonnades of St. Peter's, and several visibly emotional visitors. Once, His Holiness even landed upon the balcony from which he delivered his Sunday addresses to worshippers, slowly opening and closing his nine-foot wings for several moments. Church officials hastened to remind onlookers that, in this part of his life cycle, the pope is no longer a sentient, thinking being.

The College of Cardinals said the pope's eggs—which the pontiff immediately began to release from his ovipositor and attach to various architectural features around Rome with a cement-like secretion discharged from his distended mandibles—have hatched, and from the larva, the next Successor of the Prince of the Apostles has been chosen.

Although the transformed Pope John Paul II will live for only a few days before crawling off to die somewhere in the recesses of the Vatican, Catholics see these brief days on earth as a gift from God and an indication of his ongoing love of man.