VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 8, 2004 ( John Paul II pleaded on behalf of all children who suffer the violence of adults, and he prayed for the victims of the terrorist school seizure in Beslan, Russia.

The suffering of the little ones "cannot, must not leave anyone indifferent," the Pope said, in a sad and tired voice, to the 8,000 people gathered today for the general audience in Paul VI Hall.

Unusually, the audience became a ceremony of prayer which had as its framework the celebration of the Nativity of Mary, the day's liturgical feast.

The Holy Father began with a meditation in which he contemplated Mary as a child, and asked: "How can one not think of the many defenseless little ones of Beslan, in Ossetia, victims of a barbarous kidnapping and tragic massacre?"

"They were inside a school, the place where one learns the values that give meaning to history, culture and peoples' civilization: reciprocal respect, solidarity, justice and peace," he said.

"Behind those walls, instead, they experienced outrage, hatred and death, evil consequences of a cruel fanaticism and an insane contempt for the human person," the Pope added.

John Paul II then referred to "all innocent children who, in every part of the world, are victims of the violence of adults."

"Children constrained to take up arms and educated to hate and kill; children induced to beg on the streets, exploited for easy earnings," he lamented.

"Children mistreated and humiliated by the arrogance and abuse of grown-ups; children abandoned to themselves, deprived of the warmth of a family and of prospects for the future," the Pope continued.

"Children who die of hunger, children killed in so many conflicts in various regions of the world," he said.

The Pontiff's traditional weekly meeting with pilgrims ended with a "prayer for justice, peace and solidarity in the world."

A papal aide began by praying for the dead in the school of Beslan, both for the children, as well as their parents and teachers, so "that in his mercy God will open wide to them the doors of his house, let us pray to the Lord."

Prayers were then raised for the wounded, and the families of the victims of the attack, so that with the help of God and the solidarity of the world "they will be able to forgive all those who have done evil to them."

There were prayers also for "all the children who, in so many parts of the world, suffer and die because of the violence and abuse of adults: that the Lord will make them feel the comfort of his love and bend the hardness of heart of those who are the cause of their sufferings."

After praying for all the kidnapped in Iraq, especially two Italian women seized Tuesday, the faithful implored for "justice and peace in the world."

May the Lord "enlighten the minds of all those who are under the deadly spell of violence and open the hearts of all to dialogue and reconciliation, to build a future of hope and peace," the Prayer of the Faithful stated.

John Paul II ended with a prayer in ordinary language, imploring God that men will understand "that every child is a richness of humanity, and that violence against others is a blind alley with no exit or future."