VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II, celebrating midnight Mass on Tuesday for thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Basilica, invited people worldwide to celebrate Christmas by proclaiming the "divine meaning of human life."
Dressed from mitre to slippers in gold and white, John Paul devoted his Christmas Eve sermon, the eighth of his pontificate, to the spiritual nature of the birth of Jesus.
"The Lord's birth is the light of the meaning: the light of the rediscovered meaning of all things. And above all the meaning of man . . . the meaning of human life," John Paul said in his homily.
'Light of Bethlehem'
"The light of the night of Bethlehem. This meaning, this rediscovered meaning of humanity--and the meaning of all things--bursts upon the world" with song, he said.
"To all of you gathered here, to all the peoples and nations, to the whole of creation I express the hope that on this Bethlehem night you will raise this song, in many tongues, traditions and cultures: The song of the birth of the Lord, the song that proclaims the divine meaning of human life."
Television stations from about 30 countries broadcast the Mass live, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro said.
Pilgrims from Europe, the United States and Latin America came to the Vatican for the Mass.
In the middle of St. Peter's Square stood a monumental Christmas tree and a nativity scene with a manger to which the Pope is to carry a likeness of the baby Jesus.
Before celebrating midnight mass, John Paul, the former archbishop of Krakow, addressed about 3,000 Poles--two-thirds of them refugees--at a Christmas Eve meeting that he has made an annual event since becoming pontiff in 1978.
"It is a special meeting, the only one all year," he told them nostalgically.
John Paul has returned to his homeland only twice as Pope, the last time in June, 1983.
At the ceremony in the Pope Paul VI auditorium, John Paul joined his countrymen in singing carols and ate the traditional Polish Christmas bread, oplatek, which was handed to him by Bishop Szczepan Wesoly, who looks after the needs of Polish communities around the world. John Paul said the bread makes all Poles in and out of the country feel part of one family.
In remarks to the Pope, Wesoly spoke of the "suffering of the Polish nation."
John Paul replied that he was aware of the "suffering," and added: "The strength of the nation is also built from wounds and pain."
The Pope made no direct reference to the struggle of the outlawed Solidarity labor movement and its repercussions in his homeland, but he underlined the church's support for human rights and self-determination.
"The forces that exist in man, in each of us, also serve the good of others, the good of the community, the nation, the homeland and humanity," he said.
"In recent years, we have been witnesses to the awakening of these forces on Polish land," the Pope said. "They correspond to the dignity of every man and at the same time are born from the heritage in which each of us is rooted."
"I myself feel deeply in me this heritage, and every year I am always more convinced of how it is tied to that of other nations and other peoples, not only on our continent of Europe," he said.
The Pope said the Second Vatican Council, which ended 20 years ago, supported "the legitimate aspirations of men, communities, environments, societies and nations of our epoch."
Following a Christmas morning mass today in St. Peter's, the Pope was to touch on religious and secular themes in his "Urbi et Orbi" message to Rome and the world, delivered from the main balcony of the basilica.