VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2003 ( At the start of Advent, John Paul II invited all believers to reawaken in the world "the hope for peace."

Before praying the midday Angelus with thousands of pilgrims gathered today in St. Peter's Square, the Pope appealed once again to religious leaders to be architects of peace, especially in the Middle East and Africa.

"Christ is coming, the Prince of peace!" the Holy Father said, underlining the season of Advent as the preparation for Christmas. "To prepare for his Nativity means to reawaken in ourselves and in the world the hope for peace."

"First of all, peace in hearts, which is built by putting down the weapons of rancor, of vengeance and of every form of egoism," he added.

"The world is in great need of peace!" the Pope continued. "I am thinking especially, with profound sorrow, of the last episodes of violence in the Middle East and the African continent, as well as those in so many other parts of the earth reported in the daily news."

To leaders of the great religions, John Paul II renewed the appeal he has been repeating since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: "Let us join forces to preach nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation!"

For Christians, the Pope said, Advent must be a time of waiting to open "our hearts to him who brings, with his coming among us, the priceless gift of peace to the whole of humanity."