VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Pope John Paul II marked the approach of Easter on Saturday night with a candlelight vigil in St. Peter's Basilica, the most solemn ceremony in the Catholic calendar.

John Paul, looking tired after a grueling Holy Week, lighted the main candle. The candle's flame was shared with thousands of smaller ones that were distributed to people gathered inside the darkened basilica, which flickered with the little lights and flashbulbs.

Later, he was to baptize six people in an annual rite of the Easter vigil.

The ceremony is the most solemn of the Catholic liturgical year, marking the final dark hours after Christ's death before the exultation of Easter Sunday.

The 80-year-old pontiff, who suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, was to have only a few hours rest before celebrating Easter Mass on Sunday. He also planned to deliver his traditional Easter greeting in more than 50 languages to thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The vigil itself was supposed to have taken place in the square, to accommodate the 25,000 people expected to attend, but was moved inside because of a cold rain Saturday, the Vatican said.