The Pope began Easter Sunday Mass today with a call to the faithful to work tirelessly for peace.
As tens of thousands of people jammed rain-soaked St Peter’s Square at The Vatican for the service, John Paul II took his place under a canopy erected on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
His appearance came after he had had only a few hours of rest after presiding over a three-hour-long Easter vigil ceremony in the basilica last night.
The Pope looked pale and weary, at one point yawning and cradling his head in his hands.
This morning’s Mass capped a strenuous Holy Week schedule of ceremonies for the 82-year-old pontiff, who, struggling with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, has difficulty in walking and reading long speeches.
John Paul told some 50,000 tourists, pilgrims and Romans that Easter brought peace which only the Lord could give, and he urged faithful to be “tireless workers of peace in justice and truth”.
The conflict in Iraq has pained the pontiff, who vigorously opposed the war and tried to use Vatican diplomacy to avert it.
During the Good Friday procession, Iraqis were among the faithful chosen to carry the cross for the Pope, who no longer can walk the half mile of the route recalling Christ’s suffering at his Crucifixion.
Under grey skies, the square was brightened by potted, flowering plants, including deep pink azaleas, a rainbow of tulips and sprays of lilac-hued wisteria.
To help the Pope keep his packed schedule as his health problems worsened over the past years, the Vatican has come up with a variety of devices to ease his getting around.
The latest is a wheeled chair, which can be raised and lowered, and which lets the Pope celebrate Mass at the altar without standing up. He also now sits while being moved across the vast expanses of the basilica or the square in a kind of wheeled chariot. Until recently, he used to stand up in the device.
Even after the Mass began, thousands of more faithful were streaming toward the square to receive the Pope’s Easter blessing at the end of the Mass and to listen to his message “Urbi et Orbi” – Latin for “To the City and to the World.”