VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2001 ( John Paul II today officially received the 25-meter, 6-ton fir tree that will adorn St. Peter´s Square this Christmas.

The fir is a gift from Romania, whose president, Ion Iliescu, personally made the solemn presentation. The Holy Father warmly thanked the president, who also gave several other small trees to decorate the Vatican.

During the meeting, the Pope recalled his visit to Romania in May 1999, the first of a Bishop of Rome to an Orthodox country, and an unprecedented step of rapprochement between Orthodox Christians and Catholics.

At the same time, John Paul II expressed the hope that the former Communist country would be a bridge between "the European cultural and religious traditions, thus fostering peace and understanding among men."

This year´s Vatican Christmas tree comes from Mount Ceahlaul, in the heart of Transylvania. The tree was unveiled by the Romanian president. It is near the obelisk in St. Peter´s Square, next to the Nativity scene.