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Joy, Peace In Pope’s Message

Pope John Paul II wished the world joy and peace in his Christmas message Wednesday while lamenting bloodshed and injustice from Bethlehem to Africa’s Great Lakes.

The pontiff, who got a little more rest than usual during the hectic Christmas holiday, delivered his denunciation of violence as “shattering the spell of peace brought by this holy day.”

After reciting carols from his native Poland, the pope exulted in weapons fallen silent from Bosnia to Guatemala, where “men tread anew the path of understanding and harmony.”

But “the echo of the songs of Christmas must travel much farther,” he said.

“I am thinking of Bethlehem and all the Holy Land, where Jesus was born and lived, the land which he loved, the land where hope must not die, despite provocations and profound differences,” he said.

The heart of Africa, the Great Lakes region where bloodshed and floods of refugees have kept peace from Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire, is suffering “amid the general indifference of the international community, one of the cruelest human tragedies of its history,” John Paul said.

The pope included the languages of Burundi and Rwanda when he said Merry Christmas in 55 languages.

“No one can remain indifferent before this scandal, which words and pictures can only faintly begin to describe,” John Paul said. “To resign ourselves to such violence and injustice would be too grave a rejection of the joy and hope which Christmas brings.”

The 76-year-old pontiff, who had an appendectomy in October, heeded his doctors’ advice to slow down. He skipped his traditional appointment with the faithful for midmorning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, where he had led a two-hour Christmas Eve service at midnight.

The rest seemed to do him good. After looking weary during stretches of midnight Mass, John Paul’s voice was stronger during his noon blessing and message.

He appeared at the central balcony of the basilica facing St. Peter’s Square, before millions of television viewers and about 10,000 tourists and Romans who braved a rainstorm for his message “Urbi et Orbi,” or To the City and To the World.

Last year, nausea and fever caused him to skip Christmas Day Mass and cut short his noon balcony appearance.