| Pope John Paul blesses Giorgia Gnazi of Italy during the blessing of 12 children from different countries at a Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (AP) j
Vatican City, Dec. 25 (Reuters): A weak but determined Pope John Paul asked God in his Christmas message to the world today to save humanity from the scourge of terrorism and wars he said were laying waste to many parts of the planet.
The 83-year-old Polish pope, marking the 26th Christmas of his pontificate, made his address as suspected terrorists struck in Pakistan, Israel and Iraq and a September 11 rerun scare gripped the US.
As thousands of people in a cold St Peter’s Square listened, the Pope said Happy Christmas in 62 languages.
The Pope, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, looked much more pained than he was at a midnight mass 12 hours earlier.
“Save us from the 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, from the scourge of terrorism and from the many forms of violence which assail the weak, the vulnerable.”
The Pope, who was interrupted by applause many times, opposed the war in Iraq and has expressed deep frustration in the past year over acts of terrorism. Security was tight around the square for fear of terror attacks.
Sept. 11 ghost
US officials scrutinised passenger and crew lists of flights from overseas amid fears of a possible terror attack involving commercial airliners.
A day after Air France cancelled six flights between Paris and Los Angeles at US urging, officials said terrorists might still be plotting a Christmas repeat of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
“We remain concerned about al Qaida’s desire to use an aircraft as a weapon,” said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the US department of homeland security.
The Los Angeles Times said France had acted after US intelligence found as many as six people, including a licensed pilot, booked on Air France’s scheduled Christmas-eve Flight 68 from Paris to Los Angeles “might be al Qaida or Taliban terrorists.”
In Paris, a spokeswoman in the Prime Minister’s office said French intelligence had turned up no terror links on any of the six cancelled flights.