VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II warned the world Wednesday not to degrade the sacred Christmas holiday by transforming the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ into a 'feast of useless waste' and 'easy consumerism.'
Speaking in his native Polish, John Paul also said he wished to unite himself with his countrymen during the holiday season and prayedto the Virgin Mary to comfort those 'who are separated from their families... in isolation or in prison.'
Speaking just three days before Christmas, John Paul said the holiday was a 'feast of humility and poverty' and that it should be celebrated 'with an authentic spirit of sharing.'
Vatican sources said the pope's comments, made at his last general audience before Christmas Day, reflected his concern that Christmas was becoming too commercialized, especially in the Western industrialized countries.
'We cannot transform and degrade Christmas into a feast of useless waste, into a demonstration of easy consumerism,' John Paul said.
'Christmas is a feast of humility and poverty, of the appearance of the son of God who comes to give us his infinite love. It must be celebrated with an authentic spirit of sharing, participation with one's brothers who need our affectionate help,' he said.
Present at the general audience was the 32-member Dorothy Shaw bell choir from Fort Worth, Texas. The choir, playing 58 bronze bells with a range of five octaves, performed classical music and a Polish Christmas song for the pope.
'I am grateful for your presence at this audience,' John Paul told the Americans. 'Music is one of God's most beautiful gifts,' he said in English, before wishing them a merry Christmas.
The general audience marked the beginning of a hectic week for John Paul.
He will celebrate a midnight mass Christmas Eve in St. Peter's basilica, which is expected to attract thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. On Christmas Eve, the Vatican is also expected to unveil the larger-than-life size nativity scene erected in St. Peter's Square.
Christmas Day, John Paul will bless the nativity scene, whose statues stand almost ten feet tall. He will also deliver his traditional 'Urbi et Orbi' (To the city and the world) message from the central balcony of St. Peter's basilica.
A second nativity scene has also been placed in one of the basilica's side chapels. Vatican officials said John Paul suggested erecting both nativity scenes. It was the first time the Vatican had set up nativity scenes to mark the Christmas holiday.
Vatican officials have also placed a 40-foot-high Christmas tree in St. Peter's square.