VATICAN CITY, DEC. 8, 2003 ( John Paul II commended the peace of the world to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the solemnity of her Immaculate Conception.

The Pope, wearing his long red cape, faced a cold wind this evening in Rome's Piazza di Spagna, to render homage to the image of the Mother of Christ, erected after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, in 1854.

"Obtain for the men and women of the third millennium the precious gift of peace: peace in hearts and in families, in communities and among peoples; peace especially for those nations where combating and dying continue every day," the Pope implored.

Despite a hoarse voice and moments of loss of breath, the Holy Father read his prayer completely, a prayer not lacking in personal overtones.

"I have come here, this evening, to render you the homage of my sincere devotion," he said in his prayer. "It is a gesture in which I am joined in this piazza by innumerable Romans, whose affection has always accompanied me in all the years of my service to the See of Peter."

The prayer, composed with "intense trepidation" and "trust," was addressed to the "Queen of Peace," one of the titles of the Virgin Mary, "in these times marked by not a few uncertainties and fears over the present and future fate of our planet," the Pope added.

"Listen to the cry of pain of the victims of war and of so many forms of violence that bloody the earth," he said. "Dispel the darkness of sadness and solitude, of hatred and vengeance. Open the minds and hearts of all to trust and forgiveness."

"Help every human being, and all races and cultures, to encounter and accept Jesus, who came on earth in the mystery of Christmas to give us his peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, give us Christ, true peace of the world," he concluded.

Appearing at the window of his study at midday, to pray the Angelus, John Paul II presented the Immaculate Conception as "the pledge of salvation for every human being."

"Mary is our unbreakable support in the hard struggle against sin and its consequences," he added, when offering a meditation on today's feast to thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.