Wednesday marks the 24th anniversary of the papacy of Pope John Paul II. the pope used the occasion to modify an age-old prayer and to re-affirm his intention to remain as head of the Roman Catholic Church until he dies.

Pope John Paul was elected on October 16, 1978, 24 years ago. Now 82, the pope is one of the Roman Catholic Church's longest-serving pontiffs. This Wednesday, as on most other Wednesdays, the pope held a general audience in St. Peter's Square. Thousands of people waved Polish flags and cheered as the pope was driven into the square.

In his remarks, the pope said he prayed to the Virgin Mary to give him the strength to carry out his mission to the end. Vatican analysts say the statement is likely to end any speculation that the pope might step down as leader of the world's Catholics.

The pope also used the occasion to proclaim the next 12 months the Year of the Rosary. He said he hoped to renew interest in the centuries-old prayer in order to help bring peace to a post-September 11 world and harmony to the Holy Land.

Pope John Paul signed a new 60-page apostolic letter Wednesday called "Rosarium Virginis Mariae" in which he made changes to the rosary.

Until now, the rosary was made up of three groups of five mysteries, with each group focusing on different stages of the life of Jesus Christ: the joyful mysteries, covering Jesus' early life, the sorrowful mysteries on his passion and death and the glorious mysteries on his resurrection.

From now on, the prayer will include five new mysteries, called the mysteries of light, which will allow people to meditate on other aspects of Christ's public life, such as his baptism and his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana.