Pope John Paul II celebrated midnight mass in St. Peter's Basilica marking the birth of Christ. The pope said Jesus is a sign of God that still remains.
The 82-year-old Pope, dressed in gold and white vestments, appeared to be in good form during Midnight Mass and spoke in a clear voice. He focused his homily on 'the icon of Christmas:' a tiny newborn child, whom the hands of a woman wrapped in poor cloths and lay in a manger.
On this Holy Night, the pope said, the ancient promise is fulfilled: the time of waiting has ended and the Virgin gives birth to the Messiah. Jesus, the pope added, is born for a humanity searching for freedom and peace; he is born for everyone burdened by sin, in need of salvation, and yearning for hope.
Pope John Paul told those present that the child in the lowly manger is a sign of God that remains despite the passing of centuries and millennia. It is a sign of hope, the Pope said, for the whole human family; a sign of peace for those suffering from conflicts of every kind; a sign of freedom for the poor and oppressed; a sign of mercy for those caught up in the vicious circle of sin; a sign of love and consolation for those who feel lonely and abandoned.
Earlier, just after nightfall, the pope had lit a candle at his studio window above St. Peter's Square. A twinkling Croatian Christmas tree stands tall next to the obelisk in the middle of the square and beside it a life-sized Nativity scene. Thousands visited the square during the day and took part in the midnight mass on this warm Rome winter night.
On Christmas day, the pope will give his Urbi et Orbi message and blessing to the city and to the world in St. Peter's Square.