19-December-2005 -- Vatican Information Service |

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Rome, Dec. 19 (CWNews.com) - As he made his first visit to a parish of the Rome diocese Pope John Paul II told parishioners that the true gift of Christmas is inner joy, a gift far more valuable than material presents. On Sunday morning, December 18, the Pope traveled across Rome to the Casalbertone section, to the parish of St. Maria Consolatrice-- which was his own titular parish from 1977, when he became a cardinal until 1993, when he was raised to the rank of cardinal-bishop. The papal visit came on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the parish.

In his homily during the Mass he celebrated there, the Pontiff based his reflections on the day's Gospel reading, which told the story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary, he said, could literally be translated as "be joyful." That is the true spirit of Christmas, the Pope said.

In a materialistic society, the ability to open oneself to the joy of Christ's birth is a special gift, the Pope continued. And that gift is far preferable to "the expensive gifts that require time and money." He urged parishioners to pass along their joy with simple gestures, and to imitate the Virgin Mary "saying Yes to God's will," recognizing that as the route to authentic joy.

After Mass, the Pope spoke to the priests of the parish, then spent a short time greeting the parishioners, before returning to the Vatican in time for his midday Angelus audience. As he departed, the Pope offered his best wishes for a happy Christmas to the cheering crowd.

This was the first parish visit for Pope Benedict. His predecessor John Paul II had begun, shortly after his election in October 1978, to make pastoral visits to the church of his Rome diocese. Beginning on December 3, 1978, the late Pope visited a total of 301 parishesduring his long pontificate, before illness forced him to stop making the crosstown trips. Even after he could no longer travel, the Polish Pope invited the faithful of 16 other Roman parishes to visit with him at the Vatican. Thus he met with the people of 317 of the 336 parishes of Rome. Pope John Paul II made a visit to this same parish of Santa Maria Consolatrice on April 2, 1995. The next parish visit by Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled for March 19, 2006.

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