makes plea for peace
John Paul has celebrated his 25th Christmas Midnight Mass in the Vatican with
calls for peace.
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The Pope did not directly mention the threat of war against Iraq, but said the
birth of Jesus remained a sign of peace for those suffering from conflicts of
" Jesus is born for a humanity... yearning for hope " Pope John Paul
The BBC Rome correspondent, David Willey, says the pontiff is expected to refer
more directly to a possible conflict with Iraq in his traditional message on
In recent days, senior Vatican officials have made clear the opposition to any
war against Iraq, saying it would be "unjust".
The pontiff's homily comes in the closing days of a year which has seen mounting
concern over the state of the ailing 82-year-old's health.
Delivering his Christmas Midnight Mass homily at the Vatican, the Pope said the
Nativity signified "God's merciful love" for the poor and oppressed,
for sinners, for those who felt lonely and abandoned.
Christ's message remained valid for "those suffering from conflicts of
every kind", the head of the Roman Catholic Church said.
"The centuries and the millennia pass, but the sign remains, and it remains
valid for us too - the men and women of the third millennium."
"It is a sign of hope for the whole human family; a sign of peace for those
suffering from conflicts of every kind; a sign of freedom for the poor and
oppressed; a sign of mercy for those caught up in the vicious circle of sin; a
sign of love and consolation for those who feel lonely and abandoned.
"A small and fragile sign, a humble and quiet sign, but one filled with the
power of God who out of love became man."
Up to 10,000 Roman Catholics gathered in Saint Peter's Basilica or outside to
hear the homily.
Earlier the Pope appeared at his studio window above the square to light a
candle in a silent vigil for peace.
Festive crowds have been listening to children's choirs and bagpipers in the
square or visiting the Nativity creche and the Christmas Tree - this year a gift
While the theme of Iraq was absent by name from the pontiff's homily, it
dominates the front page of the Christmas Day editions of the Vatican newspaper.
"While the clouds of war lengthen, the minds and hearts of men in all
continents are drawn to Christmas," L'Osservatore Romano writes.
" [War on Iraq] might unleash some sort of anti-Christian and anti- Western
crusade " Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican foreign minister
The Vatican's former envoy to the United Nations, Archbishop Renato Martino,
told reports only last week that a war against Iraq as threatened by the United
States and Britain could not be "just".
Vatican officials have contrasted the situation over Iraq with the US-led war
against terror after the 11 September 2001 attacks on America, which, they
argue, was justified.
But Archbishop Martino, who is also the prefect of the Vatican's Council for
Justice and Peace, said that a preventive war against Saddam Hussein was a
"war of aggression" and therefore not a "just war".
The Vatican's Foreign Minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, also warned that
attacking Iraq could "unleash some sort of anti-Christian and anti-Western
"It is sad to see the everyday use of armed violence according to a
perverse logic that opposes terrorism to a crescendo of punitive expeditions
that destroy any peace proposal and effort," he added.
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