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Pope Disapproves, but New Year’s Revelry Is Worldwide

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

Apparently recovered from a bout with the flu, Pope John Paul II cracked jokes Sunday about his fellow Poles and later urged followers not to indulge in irrational “pagan” revelry during the last hours of 1995.

But in the largely Roman Catholic Philippines, four people died and hundreds were injured Sunday and today as Filipinos defied a ban on powerful firecrackers and guns to welcome the new year.

And elsewhere in the world, celebrations included a fireworks display in Sydney, Australia, that cost more than $100,000 and a crowd of more than 300,000 jamming New York’s Times Square to watch the traditional New Year’s Eve descent of a revamped, 6-foot, 500-pound glittering ball.

At midday in Rome, only a few thousand hearty souls remained in St. Peter’s Square after hours of driving rain, and the thinner-than-usual crowd gave the pontiff material for his traditional Sunday noon blessing.

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Usually, the pope ends his appearance with a few phrases for Poles, who have a large immigrant community in Rome. This time, he looked down at the square from his window and pronounced: “I’m trying to count the Poles, but there aren’t any.”

His cheery demeanor was in sharp contrast to his appearance a week ago, when nausea caused by the flu forced the 75-year-old John Paul to cut short his traditional Christmas Day greetings.

A few days of rest at his vacation residence in the hills southeast of Rome seemed to have restored the pope’s spirits as well as his health when he returned to the Vatican on Saturday.

Later Sunday, during a service of thanksgiving in a church in Rome’s historic center, John Paul counseled the crowd against New Year’s Eve rowdiness.

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“For Christians, the end of the calendar year isn’t marked with that irrational euphoria typical of pagans in every era,” John Paul said.

Sunday night in London was also marked by revelry, however. Tens of thousands packed Trafalgar Square to usher in 1996 despite a cold night and a ban on alcohol.

Police estimated the crowd at up to 70,000 and said the celebrations had been good-natured, with only 25 arrests for drunkenness and other minor offenses.

The booming chimes from nearby Big Ben that heralded the arrival of the new year could hardly be heard above the noisy, whistle-blowing celebrants.

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