WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House said Friday that President Bush and his wife were praying for Pope John Paul II and that world's concern over his failing health was ``a testimony to his greatness.''

Bush was briefed on the pontiff's health Thursday evening by White House chief of staff Andy Card and then updated Friday morning by Card when the president arrived in the Oval Office, spokesman Scott McClellan said. The U.S. Embassy in Rome was in close contact with the Vatican, McClellan said.

He said it was inappropriate to discuss whether Bush might go to Rome for funeral services if the pope died.

``The president and Mrs. Bush join people all across the world who are praying for the holy father,'' McClellan said. ``He's in our thoughts and prayers at this time. The outpouring of love and concern from so many _ including millions of Americans _ is a testimony to his greatness.''

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the pope ``a great moral figure, as well as religious figure.''

Speaking to reporters, she said she thought the pontiff had ``in some ways unparalleled impact through his great moral authority, through his willingness to speak out for people in need, through his willingness to speak out for freedom.''

She called the pope ``one of the most important actors'' in the drama that played out across the world at the time communism collapsed.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington celebrated Mass, telling his parishioners that the pope was ``sinking'' and comparing him to St. Peter, one of Jesus Christ's apostles.