ROME (AP) _ Pope John Paul II visited a working-class parish in Rome on Sunday, wishing members of his flock a ``Merry Christmas'' and celebrating Mass for the faithful.

``Christmas is above all a family holiday,'' the pink-caped pontiff said. ``It's the same for families all over the world.

The pontiff also met with the children of the parish of Santa Giulia Biallart and with members of the parish council.

In addition to being the head of the nearly 1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church, the pope is also the bishop of Rome. Throughout his pontificate he has faithfully tended his flock, visiting parishes throughout the city.

Later, at St. Peter's Basilica, the pope continued an old Roman tradition, blessing statutes of the baby Jesus for home nativity scenes brought to him by local children.