POPE John Paul led the world's Catholics in Easter celebrations in the Vatican yesterday.
On a cold clear day, he prayed for peace in Albania, Africa and the Middle East in his Urbi et Orbit message to the world.
The Pope celebrated a two hour Easter Sunday Mass for up to 100,000 people in St Peter's Square before reading his message and wishing the world a happy Easter in 57 languages.
The 76 year old Pope, who has suffered a series of health problems in recent years, began the service more than 15 minutes late.
This fuelled rumours that he was unwell. The Vatican gave nob reason for the delay.
In another change of schedule, he did not go up to the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica after the service to read his address standing but read it instead sitting from the throne of the platform where he had said the Mass.
The Vatican said this was because it was due to be broadcast live to television stations around the world at noon and he would have been late if he had gone up to the balcony.
The Pope looked tired as he presided at the Mass, walking slowly around the flower bedecked altar and showing signs of fatigue at other parts of the service.
His voice was, however, relatively strong as he read prayers and addresses during the service.
Easter Sunday was the latest of four days of Holy Week activities that have apparently tested his stamina.
On Saturday he presided at a four hour service in St Peter's Basilica which kept him up past midnight.
In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message, the pontiff prayed for "those who see life and the future threatened by war and hatred".
This was particularly true "in the heart of Africa", a reference to Zaire, where rebels have taken control of large parts of the country.
The Pope asked Christ to illuminate the decisions of political leaders in troubled areas, mentioning the Holy Land "and especially... beloved Albania".
"May the love of Christ victorious over death, grant everyone the courage of forgiveness and reconciliation without which there can be no solutions worthy of man," he said.
The Pope, who will visit the Bosnian capital Sarajevo in two weeks, encouraged those working to consolidate democracy and peace in the Balkans.
He offered a special thought for the hostages held in the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru, for the past three months.
"May they finally gain the freedom they ardently long for," he said.
At the end of the Urbi et Orbi message, he read Easter greetings in 57 languages, including those spoken in many of the world's trouble spots - Albanian, Serbian, Hebrew, Arabic and a number of African tongues.