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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI prayed that Pope John Paul II would intercede for him with God, helping him to gather and build on the spiritual gifts that Pope John Paul gave to the church.

The Vatican police said almost 40,000 people joined Pope Benedict April 2 in St. Peter's Square for a Mass marking the third anniversary of Pope John Paul's death.

"We pray that from heaven he will continue to intercede for each one of us, and in a special way for me, whom providence has called to harvest his invaluable spiritual heritage," the pope said in his homily.

"May the church, following his teaching and example, continue his evangelizing mission faithfully and without compromise, tirelessly spreading the merciful love of Christ, the source of true peace for the whole world," he said.

The concelebrants included Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who had served as Pope John Paul's secretary for almost 40 years.

At an April 1 conference dedicated to the memory of Pope John Paul, Cardinal Dziwisz said he continues to receive hundreds of letters from people who have asked for Pope John Paul's intercession and he, himself, continues to pray for his former boss' assistance.

"I do not miss John Paul," he said. "I accompanied him for almost 40 years and now he accompanies me. When I have a problem, I turn to him and he is with me."

Speaking in Poland before traveling to Rome for the anniversary events, Cardinal Dziwisz said he hopes Pope John Paul will be beatified and canonized soon, but he would not put any pressure on Pope Benedict to speed the process further.

"The pope will know when and at which moment to proclaim John Paul II's beatification. We trust in his wisdom and assistance," the cardinal said.

Msgr. Slawomir Oder, the priest in charge of promoting the cause, told Vatican Radio March 31 that he had completed a 2,000-page draft of the "positio," the official position paper explaining why Pope John Paul should be proclaimed a saint.

An official at the Congregation for Saints' Causes is examining the draft, a few adjustments are expected, and then the report will be officially submitted for judgment, Msgr. Oder said.

Speaking at the April 1 conference, Msgr. Oder recommended "patience and optimism," but he refused to guess how much longer the process would take.

Among the participants at the April 2 memorial Mass were hundreds of people from all over the world attending the first international conference focused on the divine mercy devotions promoted by St. Faustina Kowalska, who was canonized by Pope John Paul.

Pope Benedict said God's mercy was a predominant theme in the pontificate of Pope John Paul.

"He wanted the message of the merciful love of God to reach all men and women, and he exhorted the faithful to give witness to it," the pope said.

Pope John Paul personally lived through "the appalling tragedies" of the Second World War and communist dictatorship, "and for a long time asked what could contain the tide of evil. The response could be found only in the love of God.

"In fact, only divine mercy is capable of limiting evil," the pope said. "Only the omnipotent love of God can defeat the arrogance of evildoers and the destructive power of selfishness and hatred."

Pope Benedict said Pope John Paul's repeated calls for people not to be afraid were not based on a trust in human potential or success, "but only on the word of God, the cross and the resurrection of Christ."

"He always said it with inflexible firmness, first brandishing his pastoral staff topped with the cross and then, when his physical energies were diminishing, almost hanging on to it, and then -- on that last Good Friday in which he participated in the Way of the Cross from his private chapel -- gripping the cross in his arms," the pope said.

Pope John Paul was totally devoted to Christ, Pope Benedict said: "With him he lived and with him he wanted to die."

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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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