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Tuesday, 25 December, 2001, 12:22 GMT
'Save the children' urges Pope
Pope John Paul ll
Pope John Paul II: Anxiety over Middle East
Pope John Paul II put the plight of the world's war children in the spotlight in his Christmas Day message.

May God's holy name never be used as a justification for hatred

Pope John Paul II
"Save the children to save the hope of humanity," the 81-year-old pontiff told tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square, Rome.

"Many, too many children are condemned as soon as they are born, for no fault of their own, to suffer the consequences of inhuman conflicts."

He said that the new millennium, which started with such hope, was now threatened by the "dark clouds of war" - referring especially to the Middle East conflict.

Pope John Paul is helped into the basilica for Midnight Mass
The Pope: The Christian message is still relevant
He 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.

"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!"

His plea earlier to the Israelis to allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to attend Midnight Mass in Bethlehem, went unheeded.

'Anxious and distressed'

The Israelis demanded that the Palestinian Authority do more to arrest those behind the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October.

It was the first time Mr Arafat, a Muslim, has missed the Midnight Mass since 1995, when Israel turned the town over to Palestinian control a few days before Christmas.

Speaking at the Midnight Mass at St Peter's Basilica, the Pope said this Christmas people were "anxious and distressed because of the continuation in various parts of the world of war," but that nonetheless Christ's message was still relevant today.

"Yes, in this night filled with sacred memories, our trust in the redemptive power of the Word made flesh is confirmed," he said in his midnight mass homily.

"If we listen to the relentless news headlines, these words of light and hope may seem like words from a dream. But that is precisely the challenge of faith, which makes this proclamation at once comforting and demanding," the Pope said.

The Pope said that "when darkness and evil seem to prevail, Christ tells us once more: fear not!

"By coming into the world he has vanquished the power of evil, freed us from the slavery of death and brought us back to the banquet of life."

The BBC's David Willey reports from Rome
"The Pope called children the hope of humanity"
See also:

18 Nov 01 | Europe
Pope calls Assisi peace meeting
29 Mar 01 | World
Pope reaches out to Islam
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Vatican
14 Dec 01 | Europe
Pope fasts for peace
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