Pope John Paul II led more than 850 million Roman Catholics in Christmas celebrations at midnight Mass on Monday, including an Arabic prayer with an apparent plea for peace in the Persian Gulf.
The service was broadcast live on radio and television to tens of millions of people on all continents.
During the “Prayers of the Faithful” part of the celebration, an Arabic speaker read a prayer for peace in the world.
“Father, you wanted your son Jesus to be a reconciler and peacemaker of heaven and earth. Enlighten the minds of those responsible for nations so that they become builders of peace and make every effort to build it in justice and reciprocal respect,” the prayer said.
The prayer appeared to be a plea for the use of peaceful means to resolve the crisis sparked by Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
More than 10,000 people, including the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, attended the solemn papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is the largest church in Christendom.
The pontiff usually reserves his most powerful comments on world events for his Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) message, delivered from the basilica’s central balcony.
He is expected to appeal for peace in today’s message. Tens of thousands of faithful are expected to flock to St. Peter’s Square--decorated with a life-size Nativity scene and a huge Christmas tree--to listen to that message and hear the Pope deliver holiday greetings in more than 50 languages.
As is customary with his Christmas midnight Mass, the Pope’s homily centered on the biblical story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
In it, the 70-year-old Polish pontiff urged Catholics to look beyond the surface of the events and find their deeper significance.
“Everything has its beginning on this night in Bethlehem. Here is born the new principle of human history.
“Oh night of Bethlehem, may we speak in the name of all creatures. May we speak with the tongue of every people and all mankind. Night of Bethlehem, we greet you.”