Troubled by violence in world, pope marks Christmas

VATICAN CITY - Troubled by violence around the world, including church bombings in Indonesia and bloodshed in the Middle East, Pope John Paul II on Monday made a Christmas wish that hope can still outshine the darkness of evil.

After a few hours of sleep following midnight Mass before tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square, the ailing, 80-year-old pope returned to the steps of St. Peter's Basilica to read out loud his traditional Christmas day message ''Urbi et Orbi,'' Latin for ''to the city and to the world.''

John Paul looked tired, and his words were at times so slurred it was difficult to understand him. His slurred speech and trembling hand are common symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder.

With some 50,000 tourists, pilgrims and Romans filling the square in front of him, John Paul, seated in an armchair on the wide steps, said Jesus was born ''to restore hope to every man and woman on the face of the Earth.''

Then the pope read a litany of sins marring humanity, from violence to children, rape and exploitation of women to ''endless streams of exiles and refugees'' and conflicts around the world.

''I am thinking with great concern of the Holy Land where violence continues to stain with blood the difficult path to peace,'' said the pope, echoing his words during midnight Mass.

At the last minute, the pope's speech was updated to reflect the bombings outside churches in Jakarta and five other Indonesian cities on Christmas Eve. The blasts killed at least 10 people and aggravated already tense relations between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia.

''And what are we to say about countries - I am thinking particularly of Indonesia - where our brothers and sisters in faith, even on this Christmas day, are undergoing a tragic time of trial and suffering?'' the pope asked.

He also denounced what he called ''shadows of death'' at every stage of life, a reference to abortion and euthanasia, which the Vatican fiercely opposes.

''Yet however dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light which appeared on this holy night at Bethlehem is stronger still,'' the pope said.

John Paul then kept his custom of reciting Christmas greetings in dozens of languages, this year stretching his list to 60 tongues, beginning with Italian and ending with Latin. Some were tongues from some of the few countries he has yet to visit, such as Russian, Greek, Chinese and Vietnamese.

For the first time in John Paul's 22-year papacy, the Christmas Eve service was moved outdoors to accommodate the large number of Holy Year pilgrims.

A few years ago, poor health forced the pope to abandon celebrating Mass on Christmas day morning in the basilica, leaving the ''Urbi et Orbi'' appointment his only public appearance on Dec. 25.

On Jan. 6, John Paul will symbolically close the holy door of St. Peter's Basilica, ending a Holy Year celebration of Christianity's third millennium that brought at least 25 million pilgrims to Rome.


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