Pope asks for prayers to aid `mission'


Pope John Paul II yesterday rounded off a memorable week of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of his pontificate with a three-hour mass in a packed St Peter's Square.

As he had on Friday, during an emotional ceremony attended by nearly 20,000 Polish compatriots, the Pope asked for prayers so that he might complete his "mission" to lead the Catholic Church into the third millennium.

Recalling the moment of his election 20 years ago, the Pope said: "For my part, I renew the `Yes' pronounced 20 years ago, trusting in divine grace and [asking] also for your commitment to pray for this Pope so that he might complete his mission . . . "

Pointing out that yesterday was a day in which the Church remembered and prayed for all those involved in missionary work worldwide, the Pope reflected:

"This [day] seems to me a very significant coincidence, especially if I think of the missionary spirit which has inspired my apostolic ministry, a spirit expressed in the many journeys I have made to every corner of the earth in order to proclaim to people: Throw open your doors to Christ!"

Throughout yesterday's long and demanding service, the Pope (78) belied his feeble, tired appearance both by the alert manner in which he concelebrated the Mass with, among others, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Camillo Ruini, and also by the way he greeted the faithful in Italian, French, English, Spanish, German, Polish and Russian at the end of the ceremony. Although his left hand was affected by its now customary shake, the Pope delivered both his sermon and his Angelus address with his usual forceful clarity.

At the end of the Mass, the Pope was greeted by 40 primary school children from a Rome parish before he stepped into an open-topped limousine and did a complete circuit of St Peter's Square, in a re-enactment of the journey made on May Day, 1981, when he was nearly killed by an assassination attempt by a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca.

The Pope had earlier adopted a reflective tone when he had asked soul-searching questions about his pontificate: "Have you been a diligent and vigilant teacher of the faith of the church? Have you tried to bring the people of today closer to great work of the Second Vatican Council? Have you lived up to the expectations of the believers in the Church as well at to the hunger for truth that exists in the world outside the Church?"

Perhaps in part answer to his questions, the Pope did make reference to his most recent encyclical, Fides Et Ratio (Faith and Reason), issued last Thursday, highlighting the document's statement that faith and reason are "like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth".

Among the many dignitaries in attendance yesterday was President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro of Italy, on whom the Pope is scheduled to pay a return visit at the Quirinale Palace in Rome tomorrow.