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Saturday, December 27, 2003


VATICAN CITY, DEC 25, 2003 (VIS) - In his traditional Christmas message which he read from the atrium of St. Peter's Square, the Pope asked God to save humanity from war and conflict, from the plague of terrorism and from violence.

John Paul II said that with the birth of the Savior 'a wave of tenderness and hope fills our hearts, together with an overpowering need for closeness and peace. ' Beside the crib, the Christmas tree, with its twinkling lights, reminds us that with the birth of Jesus the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity. The crib and the tree: precious symbols which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas!'

'The Son of God,' said the Pope, 'has entered into the history of each person living on the face of the earth. He is now present in the world as the one Savior of humanity. For this reason we pray to him: Savior of the world, save us!'

'Save us from the great evils which rend humanity in these first years of the third millennium,' he exclaimed. 'Save us from the wars and armed conflicts which lay waste whole areas of the world, from the scourge of terrorism and from the many forms of violence which assail the weak and the vulnerable. Save us from discouragement as we face the paths to peace, difficult paths indeed, yet possible and therefore necessary; paths which are always and everywhere urgent, especially in the Land where You were born, the Prince of Peace.'

The Holy Father asked Our Lady to make us 'able to recognize in the Child ' the heralded Savior, who brings hope and peace to all. With you we worship Him and trustingly say: we need You, Redeemer of man, You who know the hopes and fears of our hearts. Come and stay with us, Lord! May the joy of your Nativity reach to the farthest ends of the universe!'

After the message, the Pope delivered Christmas greetings in 62 languages to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square and to everyone who watched on television and listened on the radio. Later he imparted the 'Urbi et Orbi' (to the city and the world) blessing.

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VATICAN CITY, DEC 25, 2003 (VIS) - Today in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father celebrated Midnight Mass on the Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord. Thirty cardinals concelebrated. During the Gloria, children from different continents laid flowers before an image of the child Jesus.

In his homily, John Paul II said that the words of the prophet Isaiah, ''for to us a child is born, to us a son is given', contain the truth of Christmas. ' A Child is born. In appearance, just another of the world's many children. A Child is born in a stable in Bethlehem. He is born in a condition of extreme deprivation: poor among the poor. But the One who is born is 'the Son' par excellence. ' Like the unnamed and fortunate shepherds, let us too run to meet the One who has changed the course of history.'

'O Child, who willed to have a manger for your crib,' he exclaimed. 'O Creator of the universe, who stripped yourself of divine glory; O Redeemer, who offered your vulnerable body in sacrifice for the salvation of humanity! May the radiance of your birth light up the night of the world. May the power of your message of love thwart the proud snares of the evil one. May the gift of your life make us understand ever more clearly the worth of the life of each human being.'

'Too much blood is still being shed on the earth! Too much violence and too many conflicts trouble the peaceful coexistence of nations! You come to bring us peace. You are our peace! You alone can make of us 'a people purified' and belonging to you for ever, a people 'zealous for good deeds'.'

The Pope asked Our Lady to give us her 'eyes to contemplate him with faith; grant us your heart to worship him with love. In his simplicity, the Child of Bethlehem teaches us to rediscover the real meaning of our existence.'

'O Holy Night, so long awaited, which has united God and man forever! You rekindle our hope. You fill us with ecstatic wonder,' he concluded. 'You assure us of the triumph of love over hatred, of life over death.'

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VATICAN CITY, DEC 26, 2003 (VIS) - Today at noon on the feeast of St. Stephen the Martyr, the Pope appeared at the window of his private study overlooking St. Peter's Square to pray the Angelus with the faithful gathered below.

After recalling that St. Stephen 'was charged with false accusations similar to those directed at Jesus and, like the Master, died while forgiving his killers,' the Holy Father said that 'the Church calls the feast day of a martyr 'dies natalis.' The death of a martyr,' he affirmed, 'is a birth in heaven in virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ. For this reason, it is very significant that we celebrate the first martyr the day after Christmas: Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, gave His life for us so that we, reborn through faith and baptism, would be willing to sacrifice our life for love of our brothers and sisters.'

John Paul II remembered especially 'Christian communities that suffer persecution, and all the faithful who suffer for the faith. May the Lord give them the strength of perseverance and the capability to love those who cause them suffering.'

'May Mary, Queen of the martyrs,' he concluded, 'help us to be 'martyrs', that is, witnesses in every moment of the love of Christ whom we contemplate as a child in the manger in these days.'

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