VATICAN CITY, MARCH 28, 2004 ( John Paul II called for a response to the "silent cry of pain" of children who suffer hunger and illness, or are recruited to fight in the world's wars.

"These littlest brothers of ours, who suffer from hunger, war and illnesses, make an anguished appeal to the world of adults," the Pope said today before praying the Angelus with thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The Holy Father dedicated his address to the essence of his 2004 Lenten Message, which called on Christian communities to focus attention on children.

"Many of them are victims of serious illnesses, including tuberculosis and AIDS. They lack instruction and suffer from hunger," the Pontiff said, speaking from the window of his study overlooking the square.

"Undernourishment and malnutrition aggravated by worrying health needs, continue to be the daily cause of death of many of these little ones, deprived even of the indispensable minimum to survive," he said.

"In some parts of the world, especially in the poorer countries, there are children and adolescents who are victims of a terrible form of violence. They are recruited to combat in so-called forgotten conflicts," the Pope continued.

"They are subjected, in fact, to a double scandalous aggression: They are both victims and at the same time protagonists of war, engulfing them in the hatred of adults. Deprived of everything, they see their future menaced by a nightmare that is difficult to dispel," the Holy Father lamented.

"May their silent cry of pain not go unheard!" he exclaimed. He recalled Jesus' words "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me."

"The Lenten period urges Christians to a more generous acceptance of these Gospel words, to translate them into courageous actions in favor of children at risk or abandoned," John Paul II said.

The Holy Father prayed so that, through the intercession of Mary, God may "help children in difficulty and render fruitful the efforts of all those who with love seek to alleviate their sufferings."