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Pope Dotes on Babies at Vatican

October 15, 2000

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Kissing them, hugging them and patting them, Pope John Paul II focused on children Saturday in a Vatican family day that had the pontiff speaking of the harm of abortion, birth control and divorce.

By Rome authorities’ count, 250,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square for a candelight vigil for the Roman Catholic Church’s Jubilee of the Families, making it one of the bigger crowds for 2000 Holy Year celebrations.

``At times, babies are seen more as a threat than as a gift,″ John Paul said, deploring what he called an increasing tendency among couples in well-off regions to see parenthood as a ``choice carried out with great perplexity.″

He encouraged adoption and spoke of an unshirkable responsibility in child-raising that begins at conception.

Children in folk costumes of Africa, Asia and Europe walked up to the pope’s throne on the steps of St. Peter’s to present him with loafs and other tiny gifts. John Paul, smiling, spent a moment with each, reaching out to halt them when they turned away too quickly.

One boy in overalls, just past toddler stage, broke through security to clamber up on stage, getting an impromptu one-on-one audience with the pope before an adult carted him away.

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