ROME — Pope John Paul II, wishing the world "joy, peace and blessing," celebrated the birth of Jesus with a joyous Christmas Eve midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in Christendom.
About 26,000 worshipers, including Roman Catholic cardinals, Vatican dignitaries and diplomats from the 117 countries that have relations with the Holy See, filled the 16th-Century, Baroque-style church. The Mass was also broadcast on radio and television to millions of people throughout the world.
Dressed from miter to slippers in gold and white, John Paul celebrated the ninth Christmas Eve Mass of his pontificate at the towering marble altar of the church.
Over 40 Languages
After a Christmas morning Mass in St. Peter's, he is to climb to the balcony of the basilica to address religious and secular concerns in his "Urbi et Orbi" message to the city and the world and to deliver Christmas greetings in more than 40 languages.
In keeping with tradition, the pontiff devoted his sermon at the brilliantly illuminated midnight Mass to the spiritual meaning of the birth of Jesus.
The Pope retold the story of the "good news of a great joy"--the birth almost 2,000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem.
"To all of creation, to all those experiencing this holy Bethlehem night, to our brothers and sisters scattered throughout the globe, joy, peace and blessing," he said. "'The event of Bethlehem unites us all."
The Pope noted that Christmas is celebrated in different seasons and climates in different parts of the world.
Joy Shared by All
"Even though the conditions vary so widely, what is accomplished at this hour is always the same event," he said. "And the same 'great joy' is proclaimed by all who announce Bethlehem night even though their words are heard in so many languages all over the globe."
In contrast to his usual busy schedule, John Paul had only three engagements before the Mass: a holiday audience with the 102 men who compose the police force of the tiny Vatican city-state and private meetings with the two Polish cardinals who live in Rome.
Receiving the Vatican police and their families in the Apostolic Palace, John Paul thanked them for keeping "order in the flood of faithful who come to the Vatican, above all during audiences and ceremonies."
The Polish-born pontiff later drove just outside the Vatican walls to pay a call on the bedridden Cardinal Ladislao Rubin, 69, former prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. Rubin has lived for 40 years in Rome.
Lunch With Cardinal
Cardinal Andrzei Marie Deskur, 62, a longtime friend and mentor of the former archbishop of Krakow, joined him for lunch in his private apartments. The Pope made Deskur, who also is in ill health, a cardinal at his last consistory on May 25, 1985.
In past years, John Paul has held an audience for fellow Poles in Rome on Christmas Eve, but this year he received them the day before.
About 3,500 Poles, many of them refugees staying at a camp at Latina, south of Rome, sang Polish Christmas carols for the Pope and gave him gifts of platek , the traditional Polish Christmas bread.
The Pope is expected to meet with Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski during Jaruzelski's official visit to Rome, Jan. 12-14. John Paul plans to travel to Poland in June for the third time since he was elected pontiff in October, 1978.
"Nobody on Polish soil should feel that he is useless--or worse still, that he is inconvenient," the pontiff told his fellow Poles on Tuesday.