John Paul II to celebrate 25th Christmas as pope


Pope John Paul II is set to celebrate his 25th Christmas midnight mass as pontiff tonight.

That message is likely to include concern about the threat of war on Iraq and renewed calls for peace in the Middle East.

Some 10,000 pilgrims are expected in Saint Peter's Basilica for tonight's midnight mass, which will be transmitted live on television in 47 countries around the world.

The ceremony will be conducted under tight security, as Italian authorities have been on alert due to the threat of an anti-western attack.

The pope, who on Sunday complained that the spiritual message of Christmas was under threat from rampant consumerism, traditionally delivers his Christmas blessing from the central loggia of Saint Peter's Basilica.

But tomorrow it will be made from the square in front of the church, as building work is under way around the loggia.

John Paul marked his 24th anniversary as pontiff in October with a solemn vow to stay in office until he dies, despite increasing concerns over his hectic work schedule.

He has been afflicted by health problems, in particular Parkinson's disease, and has had six operations during his pontificate.

The fifth longest-serving pope ever, he has made 98 trips abroad, visiting 129 countries. He has already announced two trips for next year, to Croatia and Spain.