Pope John Paul II heralded the birth of Jesus Christ in a midnight Mass homily for Roman Catholics worldwide, and the Vatican said the message was being broadcast to the Soviet Union for the first time.

The pope opened the homily in St. Peter's Basilica by quoting from Luke 2:10-11, "I bring you good news of great joy for to you is born a savior." A text of the homily was issued in advance by the Vatican."We hear this voice which emanates from the depths of the night of Bethlehem. The shepherds `keeping watch over their flock by night' were the first to hear it. For this reason the midnight liturgy is sometimes called `the Shepherds' Mass," he said.

John Paul, speaking from the papal altar under the colossal bronze canopy designed by Bernini, noted that people of different languages were listening to the same message on radio and television broadcasts of the Mass to 50 countries.

The announcer said the message was being broadcast to the Soviet Union for the first time.

"And even if the words which we hear on Christmas night are the same every year, they are still always eagerly awaited by us and are for us always new," said John Paul.

The pope cautioned the faithful not to be complacent, and to find the true meaning of Christmas in the words "a savior is born to you."

"It may seem that people have achieved a great deal, and continue to do so, in `saving' themselves with their own resources, so that they be self-sufficient. But they are becoming more and more convinced that they are not self-sufficient, that all the things that are termed `civilization, progress and development' do not reach the roots of the evil which still persists in human history and even, in a sense, is becoming deeper and more widespread," the pope said.

"Meanwhile the words `a savior is born to you' continue to touch what is permanent and real in man, what is profoundly true. And every year these words are awaited with the same basic motivations in our humanity, even if we are very often unaware of them," he said.