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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 December, 2003, 12:21 GMT
Pope speech condemns terrorism
Pope John Paul II giving the Christmas message in Rome
Thousands braved the cold to watch the Pope read his Christmas message
Pope John Paul II has condemned the "scourge of terrorism" in his Christmas message to crowds of worshippers in St Peter's Square in Rome.

"Save us from the great evils which rend humanity in these first years of the third millennium," he said.

"Save us from the wars and armed conflicts which lay waste to whole areas of the world."

The pontiff's speech took place amid extra security measures after warnings of possible terror attacks.

Calls for peace

The Pope, at times faltering in his address, called for an end to "the many forms of violence which assail the weak and the vulnerable".

He also exhorted all sides in the Middle East conflict to continue pressing for a solution to the violence.

"Save us from the discouragement as we face the paths to peace, difficult paths indeed, yet possible and therefore necessary," he said.

"Paths which are always and everywhere urgent, especially in the land where you were born, the prince of peace."

Thousands of worshippers, many of them children, braved Rome's bitterly cold weather to watch the Pope read his message in more than 60 languages, including Chinese, Arabic and Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.

The Pope's words were transmitted by satellite television and radio to more than 70 countries, more than at any previous Christmas.

Appearances cut

Earlier, after lighting a candle of peace in the window of his apartment overlooking St Peter's Square, the frail 83-year-old Pope braved freezing night temperatures to preside over the midnight mass.

The Pope's public appearances have been cut back slightly this Christmas and New Year - he suffers from Parkinson's Disease and severe arthritis.

This limits his ability to read his speeches and makes it difficult for him to stand or walk.

But despite such health problems the Pope is reportedly considering invitations to visit four countries next year: Mexico, Switzerland, Austria and France.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The Pope... sounded and looked frail"


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