Much of his message read like a litany of evils afflicting humanity, from the homefront to the warfront. The speech was changed at the last minute to reflect bombings of several churches in Indonesia on Sunday night which killed at least 15 people.
The 80-year-old Pope, looking exceptionally tired, made his comments in his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and the World) message from St Peter's Square before tens of thousands of people.
His speech was so slurry, it was often difficult to understand him. His slurred speech and tremors are common symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder.
Millions of others watched as the address was televised live to some 40 countries. After the address, the Pope wished the world a happy Christmas in 59 languages, including many spoken in the world's trouble spots.
"You, Lord Jesus, born for us at Bethlehem, ask respect for every person, especially the small and the weak, you ask for an end to all forms of violence, to wars, oppression and all attacks on life," he said.
In a clear reference to the practice of euthanasia, which the Church opposes, reports Castelfranco, the pope said the temptation is becoming ever stronger to take possession of death, by anticipating its arrival, as if we were masters of our own lives or those of others.
"We cannot but recall today that shadows of death threaten people's lives at every stage of life, and are especially menacing at its earliest beginning and its natural end," John Paul said.
The pathos of the message was underscored by the ailing Pope's voice, which trembled at times, and his obvious fatigue after celebrating midnight mass in the same square early on Monday morning.
The Pope, wearing a resplendent gold and black cape over his white vestments, said that however dense the darkness appeared, the hope of Christmas and the light of the Nativity had to be stronger.
He said he was encouraged by people who lived their lives by searching for reconciliation, those who fostered respect for the human rights of every person, those countries which had decided to ease Third World debt and to encourage peace talks.
On Jan. 6, John Paul will symbolically close the holy door of St. Peter's Basilica, ending the Vatican's celebration of Christianity's third millennium that brought at least 25 million pilgrims to Rome.
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