John Paul II told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his 25th-anniversary mass that God wanted him to continue as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church despite his poor health.
One of the longest-serving pontiffs celebrated a special outdoor mass yesterday almost 25 years, to the minute, after his election.
"He, while knowing my human fragility, encourages me to respond with faith . and He invites me to assume the responsibilities that He himself has entrusted to me," the pope said.
John Paul, looking weak and having trouble speaking, became emotional as he recalled the moment when cardinals chose him as pontiff in 1978.
"How could I, humanly speaking, not tremble? How could such a huge responsibility not weigh on me?" he said.
"Today, dear brothers and sisters, I am happy to share with you an experience which has been going on for a quarter of a century."
The ceremony began at about 6 p.m. local time (noon ET). As the sun set, the sounds of tolling bells and choirs echoed through the crowded square.
One of the pope's senior aides, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed gratitude on behalf of hundreds of millions around the world: "Holy Father, today the
entire Church thanks you for the service you have given in 25 years.
"Even non-Catholic brothers and sisters, men of good will of other religions and convictions thank you."
Before the mass, the pope issued a 192-page document that reiterated many of his views on the Church, including the need for priests to remain celibate.
Referring to sex-abuse scandals, he called on bishops to act quickly to deal with "grave lapses" in the moral behavior of clergy.
The pope said the world is becoming increasingly divided between the powerful and the poor, and that more must be done to help those in need.
He also said the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States have created "grave new situations of uncertainty and fear, both for human civilization and
the peaceful coexistence of nations."
The pope has been plagued by health problems, including Parkinson's disease. John Paul had an intestinal tumor removed in 1992. He also suffers from
the effects of being shot in an assassination attempt in 1981.