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Wednesday, December 17, 2003


VATICAN CITY, DEC 17, 2003 (VIS) - At the end of today's weekly general audience, during his multi-language greetings to the faithful, Pope John Paul expressed special thanks to the people of the northern Italian region of Valle D'Aosta, accompanied by their bishop and by civil authorities, for the Christmas trees that they provided for the Vatican. Also present were a choir and musicians from the region who entertained the Pope and the pilgrims present at the audience.

'You came to present me,' said the Pope, 'with the immense tree that has been placed in St. Peter's Square and the trees set up in this audience hall and in other areas of the apostolic palaces and the Vatican. These are a gift from your autonomous region of Valle D'Aosta. Thank you very much! I am especially grateful to all those who made possible this very welcomes Christmas gift which will remind visitors and pilgrims of the birth of Jesus, light of the world.'



VATICAN CITY, DEC 17, 2003 (VIS) - Today in the Paul VI Hall, In the last general audience of this year, the Holy Father spoke about 'An Advent of Hope.'

Addressing some 10,000 people, John Paul II said that 'Advent keeps alive the wait for Christ who will come to visit us with His salvation, fully realizing His kingdom of justice and peace. The annual commemoration of the Messiah's birth in Bethlehem renews in the hearts of believers the certainty that God keeps faithful to His promises. Therefore, Advent is a powerful proclamation of hope that touches our personal and common experience deeply.'

After emphasizing that all human beings 'dream of a more just and unified world where dignified conditions of life and peaceful coexistence make relations among individuals and peoples harmonious,' he said: 'Often it is not this way. ' The mystery of Christmas, which we will relive in a few days, assures us that God is Emmanuel ' God with us. Therefore, we must never feel alone. He is close to us, He became one of us in the virginal womb of Mary. He shared in our earthly pilgrimage, guaranteeing us the joy and peace which we aspire to from the depths of our being.'

The Pope said that Advent highlights 'a second element of hope which regards more generally the meaning and value of life. ' What meaning do our accomplishments on earth have, what awaits us after death? ' Are the search for greater material well-being, the pursuit of ever-more advanced social, scientific and economic goals' enough, he asked, 'to satisfy the most intimate aspirations of our soul? Today's liturgy invites us to amplify our vision and to contemplate the wisdom of God who comes to us from on high.'

A third element of Christian hope is that 'God has taken the initiative to come in contact with man. Becoming a child, Jesus assumed our nature and established His alliance with all of humanity forever.'

'The meaning of Christian hope which Advents proposes,' he concluded, 'is that of confident hope, of docility and joyful openness in encountering the Lord. He came to Bethlehem to be with us forever.'

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VATICAN CITY, DEC 16, 2003 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed Bishop Joseph Edra Ukpo of Ogoja, Nigeria as metropolitan archbishop of Calabar (area 7,753, population 2,301,762, Catholics 189,537, priests 38, religious 44), Nigeria. He succeeds Archbishop Brian David Usanga whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese the Holy Father accepted upon having reached the age limit.

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VATICAN CITY, DEC 17, 2003 (VIS) - Over 17 million faithful from around the world have attended weekly general audiences during the 25-year pontificate of Pope John Paul II, according to information released by the Prefecture of the Papal Household which organizes the Wednesday audiences.

There have been two high points in the past 25 years. In 1979, the first full year of his pontificate, 1.585 million people attended the Holy Father's 45 Wednesday audiences. During the Great Jubilee Year 2000 just under 1.5 million people were present at Pope John Paul's 45 general audiences.

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