VATICAN CITY — In a bittersweet Christmas greeting, Pope John Paul II urged festive worshipers at St. Peter's Square on Sunday to show solidarity with the poor and afflicted, the victims of AIDS and of the Armenian earthquake.
"How beautiful is Christmas! Yet, it is filled with human misery," the white-and-gilt-robed Pope intoned from the main balcony of the soaring cathedral that is the heart of their faith for the world's 850 million Roman Catholics.
Ranged before John Paul in the giant square at noon on a splendid and cloudless winter's day stood tens of thousands of pilgrims, their Christmas finery bright in contrast to the Pope's sober message.
Noting that Jesus' birth occurred "under the sign of solitude and poverty," John Paul said: "The poor under every label, old and new, have a place in the mystery of Christmas: those suffering and dying of hunger, the rejected, the disinherited, refugees, the victims of hatred, of wars, of natural disasters."
The Pope's 11th annual message "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) was televised live to 15 European countries including, for the first time, the Soviet Union. The greeting was also transmitted to 35 other countries, the United States among them, for broadcast later in the day.
"In a special way I am thinking of those who have been affected by the terrible earthquake in Armenia and are now mourning their loved ones buried under the debris, keeping anxious watch at the bedside of the injured in the hospitals, or struggling against the cold and bad weather, without a roof under which to seek shelter for themselves and their children," the Pope said. "In this tragic hour, may they experience the understanding and support of people of good will."
Speaking in Italian, as is traditional for the Christmas message, John Paul hailed the "wonderful chain of solidarity" that has supplied aid to Armenia from governments and peoples around the world.
'Do Not Lose Hope!'
In a powerful appeal to "those who are lacking in that precious gift that is good health," the white-haired pontiff urged: "Do not lose hope!
"These words are addressed above all to the victims of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), called to face the challenge not only of their sickness but also the mistrust of a fearful society that instinctively turns away from them."
Inviting "everyone to take up the tragic burden of these brethren of ours," John Paul said: "I exhort scientists and researchers to increase their efforts to find an effective treatment for this mysterious illness. May the considered efforts of science and love soon find a hoped-for remedy."
St. Peter's Square sparkled Sunday in bright sunshine that drove topcoats to forearms.
At the head of the square stood a majestic eight-foot Christmas tree and a Nativity scene with bright, larger-than-life characters: Mary in a peach gown with white and blue shawls, Joseph in a purple gown with a yellow cloak, the first of the three kings a muscular, red-robed black man.
In his message, though, John Paul drew a sharp distinction between decoration and substance.
"The church especially feels the call to imitate the poverty of Christ," he said. "With him she takes her place beside the poor, commits herself to promoting respect for their dignity and to relieving their suffering." John Paul called for "a generous response from those who have, those who can, especially among young people."
In what has become an annual display of his considerable linguistic ability, the Pope offered Christmas greetings in 44 languages Sunday. He ranged from Byelorussian to Tamil, through Bengalese, Swahili, and Catalan. In English, he said: "Happy Christmas! May the light that came into the world on this blessed day shine in your hearts and in your homes always."