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Updated Wed. Jan. 1 2003 8:29 AM ET
Pope opens New Year with plea for Mideast peace
Pope makes plea for peace in Christmas message
Pope: Christmas is hopeful for 'human family'
Pope urges people to help the poor at Christmas
Associated Press VATICAN CITY —
Pope John Paul opened the new year Wednesday by pleading for an end to the "fratricidal and senseless" conflict in the Middle East as the church celebrated its World Day of Peace.
"Despite the serious and repeated attacks to the serene and joint cohabitation of peoples, peace is possible and right," the pope said, to rare applause interrupting his homily during a New Year's Day mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
"Indeed, peace is the most precious good to invoke from God and to build with every effort. "Later Wednesday, he issued his traditional New Year's Day greetings in several languages to thousands of people gathering under a brilliant warm sun in St. Peter's Square.
He urged them to make a small "gesture of peace" -- to their families, at work, in their communities-- to broaden a global culture of peace.The 82-year-old pope appeared relatively well-rested and his voice was strong and clear, despite a heavy holiday schedule that saw him struggling to celebrate midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
The pope cut back his participation in the New Year's mass, turning over the actual celebration to his secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The pope suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, including slurred speech and hand tremors, and hip and knee ailments.
On Wednesday, the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace, the pope turned his attention to the two-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- the latest of several urgent appeals he has made for peace in the region. "Bethlehem! The Holy Land! The dramatic and persistent tensions that the Middle East region finds itself in makes all the more urgent the search for a positive solution to the fratricidal and senseless conflict, which for too long has bloodied it," the pope said in his homily. "There must be cooperation of all who believe in God, knowing that authentic religiousness -- far from placing individuals and peoples in conflict with one another -- rather pushes them to together build a world of peace.
"Last month, the pope issued a more elaborate -- and critical -- message taking political leaders in the Middle East and beyond to task for failing the people of the region. "Until those in positions of responsibility undergo a veritable revolution in the way they use their power and go about securing their people's welfare, it is difficult to imagine how progress toward peace can be made," he said. The pope made no explicit mention then, or on Wednesday, of the possibility of war with Iraq, although he referred generally in his homily to the "threatening tensions of the moment" and the need to solve them with "peaceful means.
"But as a reminder of the Vatican's stepped-up opposition to any war with Baghdad, the Vatican newspaper headlined its New Year's Day editions, "There is no alternative to peace. ""A perverse mentality of war, terrorism, domination and blood throws a menacing shadow of sadness on the dawn of the new year," the newspaper said in a front-page editorial.