Pope Francis leads the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis commemorated the birth of Jesus in a stable and in a sermon on Christmas Eve condemned war, poverty and greedy consumerism.

In the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis led the evening mass attended by about 7,000 worshipers, including tourists and pilgrims, who flocked to the church on a warm evening and took their places behind rows of white-robed popes.

Francis drew lessons from the humility of Jesus’ first hours of life in a manger.

“While animals eat in their stables, men and women in our world, in their hunger for wealth and power, even devour their neighbors, their brothers and sisters,” lamented the pope. “How many wars have we seen! And in how many places are human dignity and freedom still violated today!”

“As always, the main victims of this human greed are the weak and vulnerable,” said Francis, who did not name a specific conflict or situation.

“Even this Christmas, as in the case of Jesus, a world starving for money, power and pleasure makes no room for the little ones, for so many unborn, poor and forgotten children,” said the Pope, reading his homily in a tired, almost hoarse voice: “I am thinking above all of the children who are devoured by war, poverty and injustice.”

Nevertheless, the Pope urged people to take courage.

“Don’t let fear, resignation or despondency overwhelm you.” The lying of Jesus in a manger shows where “the true riches of life are to be found: not in money and power, but in relationships and people”.

Referring to “so much consumerism that has wrapped up the mystery of Christmas,” Francis said there is a risk that the meaning of the day will be forgotten.

But, he said, Christmas draws attention to “the problem with our humanity – the indifference that arises from greed for possessions and consumption”.

“Jesus was born poor, lived poor and died poor,” said Francis. “He didn’t talk about poverty so much as lived it, to the end, for us.”

Francis urged people “not to let this Christmas go by without doing something good”.

When Mass ended, the Pope, pushed into a wheelchair by an attendant, with a life-size statue of the Infant Jesus on his lap and flanked by several children carrying bouquets of flowers, drove down the Basilica. The statue was then placed in a manger in a nativity scene in the basilica.

Francis, 86, uses a wheelchair to walk long distances and a cane for shorter distances due to a painful knee ligament.

Traditionally, Catholics celebrate Christmas Eve by attending mass at midnight. But over the years, the Vatican start time has crept in earlier, reflecting the popes’ health or stamina and then the pandemic.

Two years ago, the start of Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica was pushed back to 7:30 p.m. to allow the faithful to get home ahead of a night-time curfew imposed by the Italian government as a measure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Although practically all restrictions triggered by the pandemic have long since been lifted in Italy, the Vatican stuck to the early start time.

During the Saturday night service, a choir sang hymns. Groups of potted red poinsettias near the altar contrasted with the Pope’s cream-colored robes.

Tens of thousands of Romans, tourists and pilgrims were expected in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to hear Pope Francis address world issues and give his blessing. The speech, known in Latin as “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world), is a common occasion to review crises such as war, persecution and hunger in many parts of the world.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/pope-francis-christmas-eve-mass-vatican/12611620/ Pope Francis leads the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

Laura Coffey

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