Pope to Continue Pontification

Thousands gather to celebrate Pope John Paul II’s 25 years of service
( [email protected] ) Oct 20, 2003 12:48 PM EDT

VATICAN CITY - Thousands of pilgrims from around the world surrounded St. Peter’s Square for the special mass celebrating the silver anniversary of Pope John Paul II ‘s pontificate, where he asked the one billion Catholics around the world to pray for the strength to allow him to continue to lead them “until his final breath.”

"Continue to pray for me, so that I can faithfully fulfill my service to the Church for as long as the Lord wishes," the pope said.

"The courage to proclaim the Gospel must never fade," said his speech to the gathering of cardinals, archbishops and heads of Episcopal conferences.

"Furthermore, it must be our main commitment until the final breath, faced with an ever-renewed dedication," said his address, which had to be finished by an aide.

The 4-day celebration, which began at 6 pm. Thursday, centered on discussions of the Pontiff’s past 25 years of service and on the problems facing the current day Catholic Church. The pontiff was present only on the final day.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, one of the senior cardinals closest to the pope began the service with a tribute to John Paul II for “bringing the light of God to the world despite a sky obscured by clouds" of conflict and injustice.”

"You turned to young and old, rich and poor, powerful and humble, and always showed, according to the example of Jesus Christ, a particular love for the poor and the defenseless," Ratzinger said.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano lauded the pope's personal peace campaign in the year of the Iraq war.

"Six months have passed since the end of the conflict and the development of events in Iraq are demonstrating that if it is easy to win the war, it's not as easy to win the cause of peace and justice," Sodano said.

"There remains one fact worth noting however, which many observers of international politics have highlighted -- the repeated and passionate appeals of the Holy Father against the war in Iraq so that it wouldn't be perceived as a war of Christians against Muslims or a religious war between the West and the Muslim world."

The archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Ivan Dias, paid tribute to a "missionary pope" whose regular foreign visits had helped spread the Catholic message.

"This august meeting is therefore not only a moment of gratitude to God for the 25 years of Pope John Paul II's pontificate, but also a moment of deeper awareness of the Church's 'mission' identity," he said.

The ailing pope, who appeared to be in relatively good form on Saturday, thanked the cardinals for being “spiritually close” to him. He presented a crucifix to each of his most senior cardinals -- those with the role of prefects of the various Vatican congregations.

The other cardinals received a reproduction papyrus from the Bodmer collection containing a passage from the Bible in early Greek script, the original of which is contained in the Vatican museum.

One of the highlights of the celebration included the three-hour mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to beatify Mother Teresa of Calcutta as the 1,315th person to reach sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church.

John Paul, with 476 beatifications, has made more saints than any of his predecessors over the past 500 years. He has also traveled to more countries than any other pontiff, visiting 129 different countries in 102 foreign trips.

In the words of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, Austria and possible successor to John Paul, “He is truly the global pope."