At 26th Anniversary, John Paul II Entrusts Ministry to God

Grateful for Congratulatory Messages

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 17, 2004 ( John Paul II put the future of his ministry in God’s hands when expressing gratitude for the thousands of congratulatory messages he received on the 26th anniversary of his pontificate.

The 84-year-old Pope celebrated the occasion on Saturday, the anniversary of his 1978 election, during a day marked by prayer and simple festivities.

«I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who, on the occasion of the anniversary of my election to the Chair of Peter, sent me their good wishes and assured me of their prayers,» he said today before praying the Angelus with the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

«I pray to the Lord to comfort each one with the abundance of his gifts, I commend myself to him and invoke, through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin, his constant help for the fruitful exercise of my ministry in the Church,» he added.

Then he added: «Thank you very much!» The people responded with loud cries of congratulations.

Hours later, John Paul II was to preside at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the start of the Year of the Eucharist.

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls revealed, in statements to the Italian agency ANSA, that the Pope celebrated two private Masses on Saturday for his anniversary.

«The first he celebrated as usual, very early in the morning. He dedicated it to thanksgiving for all that he has lived in these years,» the Vatican spokesman said.

The second, was also celebrated in the Pope’s private chapel, around 6 p.m., coinciding with the hour of his election in 1978, added the director of the Vatican press office.

He offered the second Mass to pray for God’s blessing «for the work that remains for him to do in the future,» Navarro Valls explained.

The Pope received «thousands of congratulatory messages from all over the world, including Muslim countries,» he revealed. The messages were sent by «heads of state, of government, international institutions» as well as «ordinary people, both Catholics and non-Catholics.»

Many of the messages contained words of gratitude «for what he has said on peace in the world, especially on preventive war,» Navarro Valls continued.

«The other frequent topics of the messages had to do with the family and Europe, making special reference to the latter’s Christian roots,» he added.

On Saturday, John Paul II lunched with his closest aides, among them: Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, his personal secretary; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Camillo Ruini, his vicar for Rome; and Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State.

Navarro Valls also disclosed that the Pope was «very happy» with the concert he was given on Friday by the Russian Army choir, to celebrate his anniversary.

«He was also very pleased by the cultural symbols contained in this event,» Navarro Valls said. «For years it was said that the Cossacks would give their horses drink in the fountains of St. Peter. The prophecy of war has become a promise of peace.»

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