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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We thank you for the promise of the new century, and ask your guidance and grace in helping us to make the most of it," Clinton, a Southern Baptist, prayed. "To free our children of hunger, neglect and war; to ease the burdens of the less fortunate; to strengthen the bonds of family; to preserve and protect our earthly home; to use new advances in science and technology to lift all the human family and draw us all closer together."

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

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

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

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

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

And in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the new year was trumpeted with the release of 2,000 doves of peace and a fireworks celebration.

Within the walled Old City of nearby Jerusalem, the location of holy shrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, pilgrims opted for quieter moments of devotion.

"Fireworks don't matter," said Juan Gomtokumo, a 50-year-old businessman from Indonesia as he traveled with other pilgrims. "Religion does."

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