Pope John Paul II is preparing to celebrate Midnight Mass at the Vatican for the 25th time off his papacy. The mass will be celebrated according to custom inside Saint Peter's Basilica.
Midnight Mass at the Vatican is a special moment for Catholics, and many who are not able to attend will likely follow the event on television. Now 82 years old, the pope appears to be feeling strong and in good health this Christmas, ready to face a busy holiday schedule.
Saint Peter's Square is decorated with a Christmas tree, which this year has been donated by Croatia. Every year a tree is donated by a different European country. In addition, a life-size nativity scene has been placed in the middle of the square.
Just three days before Christmas, the pope reminded pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square not to lose sight of the true sense of the day that marks the birth of Jesus. He said certain advertising campaigns risk distorting the holiday's true meaning, and he urged people to reject what he called the mindless consumerism that accompanies the day.
The pope said what he called the "consumerist mentality" can ruin the spirit of traditional exchanges of gifts between relatives and friends. The Pope urged solidarity and compassionate actions that demonstrate support for the poor and needy.
The pope's concerns are likely to be raised in his "Urbi et Orbi" message, to the city and to the world, on Christmas Day. This year he will deliver it from the square in front of the basilica instead of from the central balcony, due to renovation underway near the balcony.
The pope is unhappy with the growing number of conflicts in the world and has said there is a need for more prayer. In his annual address to Roman Catholic Cardinals for Christmas, he has said war and terrorism are creating ever more numerous divisions in the world.
Pope John Paul expressed particular concern over the situation in the Holy Land. In a message for the Catholic Church's World Peace Day, which is celebrated January 1, the pope decried the political stalemate in the Middle East and the disregard for human rights in the region.