Beliefnet
(RNS) While secular festivities welcomed 2000 from Sydney toSeattle, religious leaders and grass-roots worshippers paused to markthe celebrated calendar change in spiritual ways.

From the pope's first-ever New Year's Eve midnight appearance to theclangings of bells in Buddhist temples in Asia to Sunday services acrossthe United States, messages of peace and compassion filled the pulpitsand airwaves in the first hours and days of the new year.

Young and old, Christians and non-Christians alike were drawn tospecial celebrations.

Southern Baptist, Presbyterian and Seventh-day Adventist youthgathered for late-night sessions that added prayer, music andintrospection to the occasion.

Dean Finley, co-chairman of YouthLink 2000, said the tens ofthousands of Southern Baptist youth gathered at seven U.S. sites offereda contrast to the traditional "Happy New Year" shriek that came atmidnight.

On their name tags students had written what they wanted to say toGod at that crucial moment. Some chose a verse of Scripture. Otherscommitted themselves to abstinence from sex or alcohol. Still otherspledged to become missionaries. At the changeover time, a babble ofcommitments hit the arenas where they had gathered.

"It was a celebrative attitude as would have been seen at lots ofvenues, but the difference was it was not inconsequential yelling,"Finley said.

Pope John Paul II, greeting a Roman and a worldwide radio andtelevision audience from his study window overlooking St. Peter's Squareat midnight, prayed that the New Year "may be the promising beginning ofa new millennium filled with joy and peace."

"Let us enter the year 2000 with our eyes fixed on the mystery ofthe incarnation," the pope said. "Christ, yesterday, today and forever.To him belong time and the ages. To him be glory and dominion for everand ever."

The period of religious introspection carried through to worshipservices on the first Sunday of 2000.

President Clinton, taking an unprecedented active role in theservice at Washington National Cathedral, offered a prayer on "thissecond morning of a new millennium." It touched on sin, diversity andthe need to follow scriptural truths.

"We thank you for the promise of the new century, and ask yourguidance and grace in helping us to make the most of it," Clinton, aSouthern Baptist, prayed. "To free our children of hunger, neglect andwar; to ease the burdens of the less fortunate; to strengthen the bondsof family; to preserve and protect our earthly home; to use new advancesin science and technology to lift all the human family and draw us allcloser together."

Across the world, believers of a variety of faiths paused to markthe coming of the new year.

Monks rang out 1999 at Buddhist temples across South Korea and Japanby clanging temple bells 108 times, each tone representing an evil ofthe world that worshippers intended to dispel.

Jews and Muslims follow a different calendar than the one that ledChristians to mark the symbolic 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' birth. Butsome in those religious communities also celebrated in their own ways.Some Jewish congregations held special dinners after their Fridayevening synagogue services.

Some Muslims, who were celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, alsomarked the beginning of 2000.

"As a new year, it is a cultural event," said Yahya Salim of theIslamic Center of Southern California, the Associated Press reported."That this happened during the month of Ramadan, I feel it is some kindof blessing."

And in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the new year wastrumpeted with the release of 2,000 doves of peace and a fireworkscelebration.

Within the walled Old City of nearby Jerusalem, the location of holyshrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, pilgrims opted for quietermoments of devotion.

"Fireworks don't matter," said Juan Gomtokumo, a 50-year-oldbusinessman from Indonesia as he traveled with other pilgrims. "Religiondoes."

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