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Friday, December 25, 1998 Published at 10:23 GMT

World: Europe

Pope looks forward to 2000

The Pope celebrates Mass watched by his aide, Mons Pietro Marini

Pope John Paul ll has celebrated Christmas, saying his thoughts are already turning to 2000.

David Willey in Rome reports on the Pope's Christmas message
He told a 20,000 crowd at midnight mass at the Vatican Basilica that he was looking forward to opening the holy year to mark the start of the third Christian Millennium.

His address was also watched on television and the Vatican's Internet site by an estimated 500 million people in 40 countries.

"I am already thinking of Christmas next year, when, by God's grace, I will inaugurate the great Jubilee by opening the Holy Door," said the Pope.

"This will be a great holy year, in truth, because it will celebrate in a very special way the bi-millennium of the mystery event of the Incarnation, thanks to which humanity has reached the peak of its vocation. God took the form of a man to make man a part of His divinity."

Prayers for children

During the mass, the Pope said prayers in several languages for world leaders and organisations working for justice and peace.

He also prayed for "exploited and maltreated children" and for all the world's sick, especially those with terminal illnesses or depression.

The Pope is not celebrating the traditional Christmas Day mass in Saint Peter's Basilica.

He fell sick with flu last week, forcing him to cancel some of the events on his calendar.

However, he is expected to keep up his tradition of appearing before St Peter's Square at noon on Christmas Day, when he reads a Christmas message and gives holiday greetings in dozens of languages.

He is then expected to go to his holiday home outside Rome and prepare for a scheduled visit to Mexico and St Louis in the United States between 22 and 28 January.

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