In a somber Christmas Day message that matched the gloomy wintry weather, Pope John Paul II made an impassioned plea for the world to find the road to peace and solidarity.
Speaking to a crowd of 10,000 gathered under a leaden sky in St. Peter's Square, the Pope aimed his 15th annual Christmas message-- Urbi et Orbi-- at those responsible for the tumult in the Middle East and the "planned and inhuman" warfare in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"Christmas this year is marked by fear, sadness and pain," he said, at one point admonishing those "who brandish violent and murderous arms" to "listen to the voice of love, both sweet and powerful."
The Pope, 72, decried what he said were the seemingly growing distances between God and man. "Sometimes the Earth seems really deaf and impenetrable" to the presence of a God who came "to heal the wounds opened in humanity's side," he said.
He had harsh words for "the climate of hate and hostility, which in the Holy Land, the place sanctified by the birth of the divine Peacemaker, is . . . driving away still further . . . the hopes aroused by the peacemaking process."
The Pope also listed Liberia, which he described as "torn apart by insane and fratricidal battles," and Somalia, Angola and Mozambique as areas where prayers and concern should be focused in the hope for "a sure and lasting peace."
He appealed to the "leaders of nations, who are called to govern the destinies of peoples," to recognize that "solidarity . . . is the highway to justice and peace."
His midday pleas echoed the message he gave at midnight Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica. Proclaiming the joy in the birth of Christ as "more powerful than poverty and destitution," the Pope went on to ask, "But can peace truly prevail on Earth, when there is no goodwill, when people do not care if God loves them?"
The Pope offered his audience in St. Peter's Square some hope on Friday, observing that, "though obscured by the mists and storms of history, humanity's path is lightened by God's reply." God's love, proclaimed the Pope, "is stronger than hate, stronger than death itself . . . even in the martyred parts of the world where killing is still going on and evil seems to reign unchallenged."