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Pope asks for end to wars, terrorism

VATICAN CITY -- A fatigued but determined Pope John Paul II read his traditional Christmas Day blessing yesterday to the faithful in St. Peter's Square and prayed for salvation from the evils of war and terrorism.


Although the infirm 83-year-old pontiff looked tired after having presided over midnight Mass just a few hours earlier, he completed his noontime remarks and Christmas Day greeting, which he delivered in 62 languages.

Vatican observers said he looked stronger during his Christmas appearances than he did during celebrations in October marking his 25th anniversary as pope, when he seemed especially frail and was unable to deliver some readings.

"Save us from the great evils which lacerate humanity in this beginning of the third millennium," Pope John Paul II said during the Christmas Day appearance. "Save us from the wars and the armed conflicts that devastate entire regions of the globe, from the plague of terrorism and the many forms of violence that afflict weak and helpless people."

Despite the pope's chronic maladies, he still might proceed with four planned trips in Europe and Mexico in 2004, his spokesman said in comments to the media yesterday.

"He hasn't decided yet, but he hasn't canceled them," said Joaquin Navarro Valls, the Vatican spokesman. "The vitality of his thoughts is still intact, as demonstrated by recent statements, including his messages about peace and immigration and some homilies." The pontiff has received invitations to events in Switzerland, France, Austria, and Mexico in the coming year, Navarro said.

John Paul II is expected to lead New Year's prayers and Mass next week, but will not participate in two Vatican events in January -- an ordination of bishops, and baptisms -- because of concerns for his health, according to news reports.

Yesterday, the pope smiled as he was wheeled in in his ceremonial chair to deliver the Urbi et Orbi (Latin for "to the city and to the world") message from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica. He read slowly and haltingly, sometimes interrupted by applause and song from thousands of worshipers in the square.

The night before, the pope seemed in stronger form when he presided over a Mass that lasted more than 90 minutes. He read his entire homily and appealed for peace and tolerance.

"Too much blood still stains the Earth, too much violence and too many conflicts disturb the serene coexistence of nations," the pope said. He called for the "gift of the life of Christ to help us to understand better how much the life of every human being is worth."

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