JOHN PAUL II marked his 83rd birthday on Sunday with an appeal for prayers so that he could fulfil the mission entrusted to him by God.
Addressing the 50,000 pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square in Rome, the Pope asked "each and every one to continue to pray so that God will help me to fulfill faithfully the mission he has entrusted to me".
"Grateful for the gift of life, today I again entrust to the Virgin my life and the ministry that Providence has called me to fulfill," the Pontiff told the crowd gathered for the canonisation of four new saints.
At the beginning of the celebration, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, congratulated the Pope on his birthday on behalf of "innumerable people spread throughout the world, well beyond the confines of the Catholic Church, including beyond the confines of the Christian world".
He said: "To believe and to love: this is the programme of his pontificate. You show us, tirelessly, the face of Christ, the face of the merciful God.
"By beginning afresh from Christ, you help us to find the way that leads to salvation. For this, we wish to give you our heartfelt thanks. May the Lord reward you as he rewards his faithful servants."
The Vatican marked the occasion by inviting well-wishers from around the world to send the Pope congratulatory emits. More than 10,000 messages were sent to [email protected] on the Pope's birthday on May 18, and thousands more continued to arrive the following day.
"It's overloaded our system," Fr Ciro Benedettini, a papal spokesman, said, predicting that the Vatican would have to close down the email address within a day or two. The Pope's birthday was not celebrated in the Vatican. The Holy Father prefers to celebrate the feast of his patron saint, St Charles Borromeo, November 4, and the anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome on October 16. This year he will celebrate 25 years as Pope.