VATICAN CITY (AP) – Thousands of well-wishers have showered Pope John Paul II with greetings for the 26th anniversary of his election as pontiff, many of them thanking him for speaking out against preventive war, his spokesman said Saturday.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls told Vatican Radio in an interview that while many of the greetings came from VIPs, several thousand were sent by “common people, some Catholic, some not, some not even Christians.” The spokesman said they thanked the pope “for his teaching on specific subjects like peace, family, dialogue, tolerance, human dignity.”

In a separate interview with the Italian news agency ANSA, Navarro-Valls was quoted as saying “many thanked the pope for all that he said about peace in the world, above all on the subject of preventive war.”

In the run-up to the U.S.-led Iraq war, John Paul spoke out repeatedly against war, insisting dialogue was required to bring peace.

After a lively concert Friday night at the Vatican by a Russian military chorus and orchestra to publicly celebrate the occasion, John Paul marked the actual date of his election on Oct. 16, 1978, with morning Mass in his private chapel.

In the radio interview, Navarro-Valls was asked if some might conclude that the pope was unsuccessful in pushing his positions on issues including the war in Iraq and the role of family, an apparent reference to the pontiff’s denunciations of marriage between homosexuals.

“Certainly he put himself on the line with tenacity to try to make some principles prevail. It seems they weren’t completely heard,” the spokesman told Vatican Radio.

At the morning Mass, the pope thanked God “not only for all those 26 years, but above all for all that was done in these 26 years, which is an enormous amount,” Navarro-Valls said.

At the evening Mass, the pope will put himself “at God’s disposition for all that God wants for the future, plans, initiatives, pastoral work from now on he will be able to do,” the spokesman said.

Slowed by Parkinson’s disease and hip and knee problems, 84-year-old John Paul has said on several occasions he intends to continue working in his mission as pope as long as God lets him.

The pope invited guests to an anniversary lunch, which included favorite dishes prepared by Polish nuns, Vatican officials said. He also handled routine administration, such as naming a new Vatican envoy to Scandinavia.

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