Pope John Paul II used his traditional Christmas message this week to issue a plea for peace, tolerance and social justice in a world he said was threatened by violence and war.
He singled out in particular the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Vatican had pressed Israel, unsuccessfully, to allow Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to attend midnight mass in Bethlehem.
Israel said Arafat must first arrest the Palestinians who assassinated Israel’s tourism minister, Rechavam Ze’evi, in October.
“Day after day, I bear in my heart the tragic problems of the Holy Land,” the pope said. “Every day I think with anxiety of all those who are dying of cold and hunger; every day there reaches me the desperate cry of those who, in so many parts of the world, call for a fairer distribution of resources and for gainful employment for all.”
Sounding weak and looking frail, the 81-year-old pope addressed thousands of faithful at St. Peters Square. Security was tight, for fear of terrorist attacks.
The Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States and their aftermath clearly underlay the pope’s message. He rejected the concept of holy or religious war, saying God’s name should never be used as justification for hatred or an excuse for intolerance and violence.
The pope also spoke of the plight of millions of children around the globe dying of poverty and hunger.
Calling for cooperation among different cultures, he evoked the image of the baby Jesus.
“In him, he said, we can recognize the face of every child, of whatever race or nation: The little Palestinian and the little Israeli, the little American and the little Afghan, the child of the Hutu and the child of the Tutsi.”