VATICAN CITY, DEC. 14, 2003 ( At a pre-Christmas meeting with pilgrims, John Paul II asked the children present to pray for him and for the people who turn to him in their difficulties.

Hundreds of children gathered in St. Peter's Square today to pray the midday Angelus and to have the Pope bless the figurines of the Baby Jesus they were holding, a tradition on the Third Sunday of Advent.

Eventually, the children will place the images of the Christ Child in the crib of their nativity scenes at home.

"Dear children and boys and girls, when you put the figurine of Baby Jesus in the crib, say a prayer for me and for the many people who turn to the Pope in their difficulties," he said. In farewell, he wished a "Merry Christmas to all!"


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