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Pope blesses Holy Land pilgrimage of disabled

On the World Day of the Sick, John Paul II blessed a pilgrimage of disabled people visiting the Holy Land under the banner of peace.

At the end of the Mass for the Sick, celebrated in St Peter's Basilica on Monday by the Papal vicar for Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Holy Father met and briefly addressed several thousand pilgrims, some in wheelchairs.

Before farewelling them, John Paul II congratulated the Roman Work of Pilgrimages and the Italian National Union of Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines "for having promoted a significant pilgrimage of the 'handicapped' and 'builders of peace' to the Holy Land."

The Pope said the places where Jesus lived "today are disturbed by too much violence and bathed, unfortunately, by much blood."

"It represents an eloquent gesture of solidarity among handicapped people and, at the same time, is a message of hope for all," he added. "I sincerely hope that this beautiful initiative will serve so that in that land, marked at present by hatred and war, solidarity and peace will finally prevail."

The main celebrations of World Day of the Sick took place in the "Lourdes of the East" the Shrine of Our Lady of Health in Vailankanni, India.

Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, presided over those celebrations on behalf of the Pope.