In his Christmas message, says CBS News Reporter Sabina Castelfranco, a tired-looking Pope John Paul II turned his thoughts 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," he said.
In the face of the baby Jesus, "we can recognize 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, the African nation bloodied by ethnic fighting.
"Let us save the children, in order to save the hope of humanity," the pontiff declared. This, he said, was mankind's urgent task, "to give us back the right to hope."
Clusters of police dotted St. Peter's Square, and plainclothes officers reportedly mingled among the tens of thousands of faithful who turned out on a chilly, brilliantly sunny day, for the pope's noon speech. X-ray machines and metal detectors, used at the Vatican for major ceremonies during the 1999-2000 Holy Year were employed on Christmas Day to check the arriving faithful.
Police helicopters flew over Rome.
Italian newspapers have been reporting that a papal appearance in a crowded St. Peter's Square during the holidays could be the target of terrorists.
The pope also said that every day he bears in his heart the tragic problems of the Holy Land. He thinks with anxiety of all those dying of cold and hunger. He hears the desperate cry of those who call for a fairer distribution of resources.
The pope urged no one to lose hope in the power of God's love. "May Christ be the light and support," he said, of all those who work for dialogue and cooperation between cultures and religions.
In his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message, the Pope also said God's name could never be used to condone violence.
"May God's holy name never be used as a justification for hatred! Let it never be used as an excuse for intolerance and violence!" he said. "May the gentle face of the Child of Bethlehem remind everyone that we all have one Father."
Leading the 24th Christmas season of his history-making pontificate, he wished the world a happy Christmas in 60 languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, and urged all people to "open your hearts to the message of peace."
Sitting on a throne on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica and wearing while and gold vestments, he clearly showed the effects of Parkinson's disease, which often saps his strength.
The 81-year-old Pope barely managed to raise his voice at times to underscore his points, particularly about war and peace. His left hand trembled while holding his cross. He stood briefly to deliver a blessing then slumped back onto his throne.
In deference to his 81 years and his frailness, which includes often slurred speech and chronic hand tremor, John Paul several years ago stopped celerating Christmas Day Mass in the basilica, making the delivery of his message his sole public appearance of the day.
"The dawn of the new millennium, which began with so much hope (is) now threatened by dark clouds of violence and war," he said, speaking in Italian.
The Pope's words clearly pointed to his concern for the future in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States and he again strongly rejected the concept of a holy war.
"Peace (is) to be implored, for God alone is its source and guarantee. Peace (is) to be forged in a world in which peoples and nations, burdened with so many and such varied difficulties, hope 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," he said.
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