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Pope's Message Short, But Peaceful

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Pope John Paul II shared his fears about Iraq, Sudan and other hot spots and expressed his hopes in a Christmas message Saturday that peace-building efforts will bring the world a more tranquil future.

Shielded by a canopy from bone-chilling drizzle, the pontiff greeted thousands of Romans, tourists and pilgrims who turned out at noon in St. Peter's Square to hear his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (Latin for "to the city and to the world") message and holiday wishes in dozens of languages.

Compared to Urbi et Orbi messages of his early years in the papacy, John Paul's prayer this year was much shorter. Parkinson's disease has made it difficult for the 84-year-old pontiff to speak.

Children screamed in delight and adults cheered and waved flags as the pope, in gold-colored robes, was driven into the square in his white popemobile.

"Babe of Bethlehem, Prophet of peace, encourage attempts to promote dialogue and reconciliation, sustain the efforts to build peace, which hesitantly, yet not without hope, are being made to bring about a more tranquil present and future for so many of our brothers and sisters of the world," John Paul said, slowly pronouncing each word and often pausing to catch his breath.

"I think of Africa, of the tragedy of Darfur in Sudan, of the Ivory Coast and of the Great Lakes Region," John Paul said of those conflict areas.

"With great apprehension I follow the situation in Iraq. And how can I fail to look with anxious concern, but also with invincible confidence, toward that Land of which you are a son?" the pontiff said in reference to the Holy Land.

With a life-size Nativity Scene yards away in the square, John Paul laced his message with images of Baby Jesus.

"Before the crib where you lie helpless, let there be an end to the spread of violence in its many forms, the source of untold suffering," John Paul prayed.

"Let there be an end to the numerous situations of unrest which risk degenerating into open conflict; let there arise a firm will to seek peaceful solutions, respectful of the legitimate aspirations of individuals and peoples," the pontiff said.

"Everywhere peace is needed! You, Prince of true peace, help us to understand that the only way to build peace is to flee in horror from evil, and to pursue goodness with courage and perseverance," John Paul said.

Shouts of glee went up from the crowd when pilgrims heard the pope read out holiday greetings in their language. The multilingual pope pronounced wishes of peace and good cheer in 62 languages, including Esperanto, Latin and his native Polish. Determined to finish the list, John Paul took deep breaths before each new language, handing off the completed pages to aides.

Several years ago, the pope, deferring to ailments, stopped celebrating Christmas Day Mass for the public in midmorning.

Hours earlier he celebrated midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, where he held up well, reading his homily and smiling warmly as he greeted children, one by one, who, dressed in native costume, brought gifts to the altar.

The service in the poinsettia-filled basilica included prayers that world leaders dedicate themselves to peace and that Christians, Muslims and Jews achieve a peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land.