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John Paul II becomes third-longest-serving pope

As he became history's third-longest-serving pontiff yesterday, Pope John Paul II displayed renewed strength in his weekly Angelus address in St Peter's Square.

The appearance marked the Holy Father's 9281st day in office. He has now ruled the Church for 25 years and five months, overtaking Pope Leo XIII, who held the office from 1878 to 1903.

Only St Peter, whom the Vatican recognises as the first pontiff, and 19th-century Pius IX held the office for longer - Peter for at least 34 years and Pius for 31 years seven months.

He used the address to comment on Thursday's Madrid train bombs: "In the face of many barbaric acts it remains profoundly overwhelming and leaves us to ask how the human soul could reach the point of conceiving of such abominable deeds."

Some pilgrims in a packed St Peter's Square waved Spanish flags, while others clapped and cheered. Several shouted "Long live the pope!".

No special celebrations marked the occasion, in contrast with the week-long extravaganza that surrounded his 25th anniversary in October. Reuters reports that insiders say he is enjoying a "new stability", and with it he has shown a stronger than ever determination to shape the long-term future of the Church.

John Paul II becomes third-longest-serving pope (Reuters 14/3/04)

The Holy Father | Pope John Paul II
The Complete List of Popes (EWTN)
Chris McGillion: Papal task of catching up with spirit of the times (Sydney Morning Herald 15/3/04)
Ailing Pope reaches new milestone (BBC 14/3/04)
Pope John Paul Becomes Third Longest-Serving Pontiff (Voice of America 14/3/04)
Pope John Paul II becomes third-longest serving pop (Associated Press/USA Today 14/3/04)
Pope urges Dutch bishops to combat secularization (Catholic World News 12/3/04)
Study shows atheism is declining (Independent Catholic News 12/3/04)
Pope urges Europe to remember Christian roots (ABC 14/3/04)
Proclaim gospel to society thirsting for spirituality (Vatican Information Service 12/3/04)

15 Mar 2004