Benedict said that "for all the shame we feel over our failings" the world must not forget what he called radiant examples of faith such as John Paul.
The pope cited John Paul after reflecting in his homily in St. Peter's Basilica that people in the West seemed tired of their faith, bored with their Christian traditions "and no longer wish to know faith in Jesus Christ."
"When Pope John Paul II is beatified on May 1, we shall think of him with hearts full of thankfulness as a great witness to God and Jesus Christ in our day," Benedict said.
Later Thursday the pope washed the feet of 12 priests from the diocese of Rome in a ceremony in St. John Lateran Basilica symbolizing humility and commemorating Jesus' last supper with his 12 apostles on the evening before his crucifixion.
Benedict poured water from a golden pitcher as each priest held his foot over a golden basin, then the pontiff dabbed each foot dry with a white cloth.
The tradition is also a reminder to be of service to those in need. Money collected from the faithful during the feet-washing service was destined to help alleviated those suffering from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Organizers say hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will come to Rome for John Paul's beatification, the last formal step before sainthood. The Polish-born pope was a towering figure during his 27-year papacy, helping bring down communism, steering the Catholic Church through the tumultuous decades after the Second Vatican Council, and bringing his message to millions through his worldwide travels. A prayer vigil on the Circus Maximus, an all-night prayer session in downtown Rome churches and the beatification Mass celebrated by Benedict I top the agenda for the three-day event.
Italian police on Thursday announced a crackdown on hotels and bed and breakfast establishments catering to pilgrims for health, licensing and other violations. Twenty-two places had their licensees suspended for up to 30 days while six hotels were ordered closed.
"The objective is to protect pilgrims arriving for the beatification," police said.