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Pope Assures Italians the End is Not Yet Nigh
From The Times, 24 April 1998, by Richard Owen in Rome

To the dismay of Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and followers of Nostradamus, but to the relief of almost everyone else, the Pope has declared that the world is not about to end. He said that it was doomed to end "at some point", but there was no fixed date, "nor can one be discerned from the Bible". At his weekly audience the Pope assured his listeners that the end of the world was not nigh, or anywhere near nigh, and said widespread fears that the new millennium would usher in the Last Judgment were unfounded.

Italy has been gripped by pre-millennial anxiety since the earthquakes in Umbria last September, which killed 11 people and damaged the Basilica of St Francis at Assisi. There are frequent rumours that Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii in AD79 and last erupted in 1944, is about to erupt again. The Vatican has sought to reassure people that the mysterious Third Secret of Fatima - allegedly revealed by the Virgin Mary to three Portuguese children in 1917 and kept secret by the Pope - does not predict Doomsday. But books on Fatima and interpretations of the arcane predictions of Nostradamus, the 16th-century sage, remain sought-after in bookshops.

Speaking on "The Second Coming of Christ at the End of All Things", the Pope said that attempts to predict the end of the world were "illusory and misleading ... history is moving towards its conclusion, but Christ did not indicate any chronological deadline." Apocalyptic visions were to be taken "symbolically" as images of "the precarious position of humanity and the sovereign power of Christ". Theological experts said biblical references to the Apocalypse were at best "open to interpretation", including the Revelation of St John, with its visions of plagues, earthquakes and "mountains of fire" ushering in "a new heaven and new earth".