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Pope fears for the future

The third millennium is threatened by "dark clouds" of war and children must be saved from the cruel effects of adult conflicts, a tired-looking Pope John Paul said in his message on Christmas Day.

In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message, the Pope also said God's name could never be used to condone violence and that he was "bearing in my heart" the tragedy of the Holy Land and of those who are dying of hunger.

Leading the 24th Christmas season of his pontificate, he wished the world a happy Christmas in 60 languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, and urged all people to "open your hearts to the message of peace".

Sitting on a throne on the balcony of St Peter's Basilica and wearing white and gold vestments, the pontiff clearly showed the effects of Parkinson's disease, which often saps his strength.

The 81-year-old Pope barely managed to raise his voice at times to underscore his points, particularly about war and peace.

"The dawn of the new millennium, which began with so much hope [is] now threatened by dark clouds of violence and war," he said, speaking in Italian.

"May God's holy name never be used as a justification for hatred! Let it never be used as an excuse for intolerance and violence!" he said.

"May the gentle face of the Child of Bethlehem remind everyone that we all have one Father."