VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 12, 2001 ( The terrorist attacks that stunned the United States and the world cast a somber air over John Paul II´s general audience, in which he asked for prayers for the victims and insisted that "evil and death do not have the final word."

The Holy Father asked the pilgrims and guests gathered in St. Peter´s Square to refrain from the usual applause that punctuates the audiences.

What was meant to be a historic celebration of the Carmelite family in the Pope´s presence turned into a worldwide prayer for the victims of the shocking attacks Tuesday in New York and near Washington.

The general audience was to celebrate the 750th anniversary of St. Simon Stock´s reception of the Virgin Mary´s scapular.

But Tuesday´s plane hijackings and kamikaze attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., truncated the Pope´s wish, as well as that of 10,000 Carmelite religious and lay people on hand.

The echo of the Virgin Mary´s message, when revealing the promises connected to the scapular, resounded in the Holy Father´s words at the beginning of the audience.

"Although the force of darkness might seem to prevail, the believer knows that evil and death do not have the final word," the Pope told the Carmelite pilgrims, who hailed from 50 countries. "Here is where Christian hope finds its foundation; here is where our confident prayer is nourished, at this moment."

Father Joseph Chalmers, Carmelite prior general attended the general audience, along with all the participants in the ancient order´s general chapter, which is under way near Rome. Father Camilo Maccise, superior general of the Carmelites, also attended.

For John Paul II, the occasion was filled with emotional implications. In a letter last March on the anniversary of the scapular, he revealed: "I have also worn my scapular for a long time, the scapular of Carmel."

The scapular was the gift received by Simon Stock, the head of the Carmelite order, in 1251, during an apparition of the Virgin, who assured the eternal salvation of all those who wear it with devotion.

Common scapulars consist of two small squares of woolen cloth joined by strings. They are worn around the neck as a sign of association with religious orders and for devotional purposes.

In that same letter, the Bishop of Rome said this morning, "I have written that the scapular is essentially a ´habit´ that evokes, on one hand the continual protection of the Virgin Mary in this life and in the passage to the fullness of eternal glory."

Moreover, the Pope added, the scapular is a call to devotion to Mary, "a way of Christian life, interwoven by prayer and interior life."

The Pope bid farewell to the pilgrims visibly wearing the scapular on their front and back, and hoped that the celebration would become an "occasion of personal conversion, communal renewal, always in response to divine grace, which strengthens us on the way to sanctity."