The Pope, who was warmly received by more than 30,000 pilgrims, arrived today at the shrine by helicopter and prayed intensely for "the beginning of this millennium, scourged by the winds of war and watered by blood in many regions of the world."
Residents who live near the ruins of the ancient city, as well as faithful from abroad, broke out in applause when they saw the Holy Father reach the platform placed in the atrium of the church.
Recent newspaper reports on the Pope's health raised concerns that he might have to cancel his 143rd apostolic trip in Italy. The media were proved wrong.
"Today's visit is, in a certain sense, the crowning of the Year of the Rosary," said John Paul II, who proclaimed the Year in the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of his pontificate.
The Year, he added, "has caused a significant return to this prayer, simple but profound, which touches the heart of the Christian faith and is extremely relevant, given the challenges of the third millennium and the urgent commitment to the new evangelization."
"Today, as at the time of ancient Pompeii, it is necessary to proclaim Christ to a society which is moving away from Christian values, even the memory of which is being lost," he said during the more than two-hour ceremony.
John Paul II prayed the mysteries of light, which he added last October to the traditional formula of the rosary. Each one of the five mysteries was dedicated to the peace of a continent. Representatives of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania went to the platform to light a candle before the image of the Blessed Virgin.
"We have meditated on the mysteries of light, as though wishing to project the light of Christ on the conflicts, tensions and dramas of the five continents," the Pope explained.
"The rosary is a prayer, oriented by its very nature, to peace. Not only because it leads us to pray it, supported by the intercession of Mary, but also because it makes us assimilate, together with the mystery of Jesus, his plan for peace," he said.
Addressing the Holy Father on behalf of those present, Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Pompeii said that he hoped the Lord "will keep you in life for a long time as a witness of peace."
After praying the rosary, the Pope expressed his gratitude. "Thank you, thank you, Pompeii," he said. "Thank you to all the pilgrims for this warm and most beautiful welcome. Thank you to the cardinals and bishops present."
"Thank you to the authorities of the country, of the region, of the city. Thank you for the enthusiasm of the young people. Thank you all. Pray for me in this shrine, today and always," he concluded.
Inmates of Poggioreale prison, one of the largest in Italy, sent the Pope a message for his visit: "You never miss an appointment with those who suffer. You are an example to us, who opted for the wrong way."
The Pope returned to Rome by helicopter, landing in the Vatican at 2:15 p.m., an hour behind schedule.
John Paul II is looking forward to full days in connection with the celebration of the 25th anniversary of his pontificate (Oct. 16) and Mother Teresa of Calcutta's beatification (Oct. 19). New cardinals will receive their red hats at the consistory Oct. 21.