- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

VATICAN CITY Pope John Paul II turned his thoughts at Christmas to children Palestinian, Israeli, American, Afghan and African declaring that humanity's hope depended on helping them.
In his traditional Urbi et Orbi message (Latin for "to the city and to the world"), the pope said: "Day after day, I bear in my heart the tragic problems of the Holy Land; every day I think with anxiety of all those who are dying of cold and hunger.
"Every day there reaches me the desperate cry of those who, in so many parts of the world, call for a fairer distribution of resources and for gainful employment for all."
With only a few hours of rest after celebrating midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, the 81-year-old pontiff appeared tired yesterday when he spoke from the basilica's central balcony.
He sat while reading his message and had to be helped to his feet. The words of his blessing sometimes were almost unintelligible, and after he finished, he slumped quickly back into the chair.
In deference to his age and his frailness, John Paul several years ago stopped celebrating Christmas Day Mass in the basilica.
"Today my thoughts go to all the children of the world: So many, too many, are the children condemned from birth to suffer through no fault of their own the effects of cruel conflicts," John Paul said, his voice trembling. "Let us save the children, in order to save the hope of humanity."
In the baby Jesus, the pope said, there is "the face of every little child who is born, of whatever race or nation: the little Palestinian and the little Israeli; the little American and the little Afghan; the child of the Hutu and the child of the Tutsi," in Rwanda and Burundi, African nations bloodied by ethnic fighting.
John Paul made no direct reference to the September 11 terrorist attacks or to the U.S. bombings in Afghanistan. But he said the new millennium began with much hope "but is now threatened by dark clouds of violence and war."
He also prayed that God "come where the fate of humanity is most in peril. Come and do not delay."
The pope made a prayerful appeal that "God's holy name never be used as a justification for hatred. Let it never be used as an excuse for intolerance and violence."
The pontiff has said in recent speeches that nothing could justify terrorism. The Vatican has indicated that a "just war" could be waged to stop terrorist attacks but also has said that innocent people must be spared any harm.
Leading Roman Catholic bishops also have decried the poverty that is often the environment for terrorist groups.
The pope said many people were hoping "for a new humanity united not just by economic interests but by the unceasing effort to bring about a society that is more just and supportive."
John Paul, who has called leaders of other religions to join in prayers for peace on Jan. 24 in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, praised those who work for dialogue between cultures and religions, "sometimes in the face of opposition."

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