Pope Asks For Prayers To Continue To Fulfill His Mission

Celebrates 83rd Birthday by Proclaiming Four New Saints

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 18, 2003 (Zenit.org).- On the occasion of his 83rd birthday, John Paul II asked for prayers to continue to fulfill his mission, thanking in turn the numerous faithful who had sent congratulatory messages.

The Holy Father’s birthday coincided with the canonization of Polish Bishop Sebastian Pleczar (1842-1924); Austrian nun Ursula Ledochowska (1865-1939), who died in Poland; and Italians Maria De Mattias (1805-1866), and Virginia Centurione Bracelli (1587-1651), all of whom founded religious congregations.

Addressing the 50,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, John Paul II asked «each and every one to continue to pray so that God will help me to fulfill faithfully the mission he has entrusted to me.»

«There is no age that is an obstacle for a perfect life,» the Holy Father said during the homily of the Mass, attended by some 20,000 Poles, including Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

«Grateful for the gift of life, today I again entrust to the Virgin my life and the ministry that Providence has called me to fulfill,» the Pope concluded.

At the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his capacity as dean of the College of Cardinals, congratulated the Pope on his birthday, not only on behalf of those present in Rome, but also on behalf of the «innumerable people spread throughout the world, well beyond the confines of the Catholic Church, including beyond the confines of the Christian world.»

«To believe and to love: this is the program of his pontificate. You show us, tirelessly, the face of Christ, the face of the merciful God,» Cardinal Ratzinger said.

«Tirelessly you lead us, grounding us in Christ, to overcome the forces of hatred, the prejudices that separate, to pull down the walls that attempt to separate us,» he added.

«By beginning afresh from Christ, you help us to find the way that leads to salvation. For this, we wish to give you our heartfelt thanks. May the Lord reward you as he rewards his faithful servants,» he said.

For the first time, the Holy See, which has received a multitude of congratulatory telegrams for the Holy Father, has given an e-mail address John_Paul_II@vatican.va on its web page (http://www.vatican.va), so that any one who wishes to send congratulations may do so.

The Pope’s birthday is not celebrated in the Vatican. The Holy Father prefers to celebrate the feast of his patron saint, St. Charles Borromeo, November 4, and the anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome on October 16. This year he will celebrate 25 years as Pope.

Nevertheless, the Polish nuns who look after the Pope prepared a special dinner for him today, as the new canonized Polish Bishop, Monsignor Sebastian Pleczar, founded the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the congregation to which they belong, in Krakow in 1894.

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