ROME -- Pope John Paul II delivered a Christmas appeal yesterday for more aid to victims of violence in Central Africa and for a quickening of efforts to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East.
The pope issued the plea in his annual Christmas message, "Urbi et Orbi" -- "To the City and to the World" -- and he later offered brief season's greetings in 55 languages.
As usual, the pope spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, overlooking thousands of people who crowded under slate-gray, rainy skies into the square.
They were only a fraction of the pope's audience, for his remarks were carried in direct or delayed broadcasts to television viewers in 70 countries.
His comments contained much poetry, but also stern political admonition.
" 'God is born; power trembles,' " he said, citing the words of an 18th-century Polish poet, Franciszek Karpinski, that have become a popular Christmas carol in the pope's homeland.
The pope said such melodies now brought peace and serenity to places like Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Guatemala, where after years of war the guns are silent.
"But the echo of the songs of Christmas must travel much farther," he continued. "It must resound beyond walls where the clash of arms is still heard, shattering the spell of peace brought by this holy day.
"I am thinking of Bethlehem and all the Holy Land, where Jesus was born and lived: the land which he loved, the land where hope must not die, despite provocations and profound differences."
Moving on to another area of deep turmoil, Africa, John Paul assailed international apathy toward the fate of refugees in the central part of the continent, saying: "Thousands and thousands of people -- our brothers and sisters -- wander, displaced, victims of fear, hunger and disease. They, alas, will not be able to feel the joy of Christmas."
The pope, looking rested, had forgone the public celebration of the third of three Masses he ordinarily celebrates on Christmas.
John Paul, who is 76, has suffered a series of health problems in recent years.
Pub Date: 12/26/96