by Viviane Hewitt in Rome
POPE John Paul II officially inaugurated the World Cup soccer tournament yesterday with a special ceremony of benediction in Rome's Olympic Stadium.
And the spiritual "kick-off" constitutes a last-minute Vatican plea against violence a week before the first match of the Cup, which this time threatens to be fraught with tension both inside and outside football grounds.
Flanking the Pope at the stadium ceremony were the Italian President, Francesco Cossiga, the Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti, and topranking football officials.
The inauguration represented the Pope's second visit to the stadium, about two miles up the Tiber from the Holy See, and was organised jointly by the Vicariate of Rome and the Italian government sports' commission. For the duration of the tournament, the Pope has cancelled his traditional Sunday visits to Rome parishes. No foreign trips are scheduled so that John Paul can be "available" for sports officials and national teams who might request audience with him, Vatican sources said.
The Vatican has released no details yet on possible meetings between the Pope and soccer delegations.
It is known that John Paul wishes to follow the matches personally "within the limits of his heavy, daily commitments".
To facilitate fans also intending to sight-see in the Vatican, Italy's state railways have opened a special line between the tiny St Peter's station and a new station built near the Olympic Stadium. Twelve trains, with a capacity of 12,000 passengers an hour, will be provided on the Vatican stadium route.