VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2002 ( John Paul II urged the faithful to contemplate the mystery of Christmas and to offer help to the needy as a way to counteract the consumerism of the season.

"The simplicity of the Crib is very much in contrast with that concept of Christmas so often expressed in advertisements," the Pope said today when he addressed thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"Even the beautiful tradition of exchanging gifts among relatives and friends for Christmas has been affected by a certain consumer mentality, which risks losing the true meaning of Christmas," he added.

In fact, gifts are a reminder that "the person of Christ is a gift of God to humanity, of which our gifts in this feast are a reflection and expression."

"For this reason, it is all the more opportune to favor those gestures that manifest solidarity and acceptance of the poor and the needy," John Paul II emphasized.

In the second place, the Holy Father suggested that Christians live Christmas like Mary: with a contemplative spirit.

He urged, "first of all, inner silence and prayer, which allow one to contemplate the mystery that is commemorated. In the second place, the willingness to accept the will of God, regardless of how it is manifested."

"May Jesus, who in a few days will come to make our Cribs radiant with joy, be able to find a generous welcome in every Christian family, as happened in Bethlehem on that holy night," the Pope concluded.