ROME -- Pope John Paul II declared yesterday that the defense of human dignity forms the foundation of world peace, and he urged the world to renew its dedication to the respect of individual human dignity at the end of a century often marked by its violation in war and violence.
Celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark World Peace Day, which was established by Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul invited his listeners to glance back over the past century.
The Roman Catholic pontiff evoked poignant images of "two world wars, cemeteries, tombs to the fallen, destroyed families, tears and desperation, misery and suffering." But he also reminded his listeners that the century would also be remembered for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed by the infant United Nations in 1948.
Pope John Paul, who in a year's time plans to lead ceremonies to open a jubilee holy year to mark the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity, spoke in a reflective and somber tone.
"As we begin the year 1999, the last year before the great jubilee," the pope said. "It is as if the mystery of history were revealing itself with more intense profundity before our eyes."
In what appeared to be a gesture to Israel, which Pope John Paul has repeatedly said he hopes to visit for the millennium, and to the Jewish people, with whom he has sought reconciliation, he said, "How can we forget the concentration camps, the children of Israel cruelly exterminated?"
Pope John Paul, who is 78, experienced much of the horror of World War II as a young man in his native Poland.
In the drive to end decades of Communist rule in Poland and other Eastern European countries that was a hallmark of the early years of his pontificate, the pope often evoked respect for individual human rights as a condition for a peaceful world order.
Pub Date: 1/02/99