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Pope gives thanks on80th birthday

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Blending celebrations of his 80th birthday with the Jubilee for Priests, Pope John Paul II celebrated a Mass praising God for the gift of his priesthood and reached out to priests who have left the ministry.

Some 8000 priests from around the world, many wearing white baseball caps to protect them against the strong sun, gathered on May 18 in St Peter’s Square for what Vatican officials called the largest concelebrated Mass in history.

The Pope seemed invigorated by the liturgy, speaking in a strong, clear voice and smiling often as he interacted with the crowd.

He said he thanked God “with the exultation of the Spirit’s perennial youthfulness” for the opportunity to celebrate Mass with the priests on his 80th birthday.

“(God) desired to link my existence to the grace of priestly ministry, as bishop and successor of Peter, to be a witness of God’s love for all humanity in these, our times, which are so fascinating,” he said.

In a greeting before the Mass, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, told the Pope that those gathered prayed that God might let him “still guide us for a long time”.

The liturgy included prayers for the Pope, who suffers from what is thought to be Parkinson’s disease, to “be able to continue to irradiate … the gift of his spiritual paternity, the wisdom of his heart, the witness of his prophetic gestures”.

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