Vatican City, Dec 9, 2023 / 09:50 am (CNA).
Pope Francis said today that the Vatican’s nativity scene this year should compel people to think of the Holy Land — both of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and also of the conflict currently engulfing the region.
“While we contemplate Jesus, God made man, small, poor, defenseless, we cannot help but think of the drama that the inhabitants of the Holy Land are experiencing, demonstrating to these brothers and sisters of ours, especially to children and their parents, our closeness and our spiritual support,” the pope said.
The pope made his remarks in a Saturday morning audience in Paul VI Hall with two delegations who had donated, respectively, the Christmas tree and the nativity scene, or creche, that will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square this year. The unveiling of the nativity scene and lighting of the Christmas tree are scheduled to take place this evening.
An annual custom, this year’s Vatican creche pays special tribute to the first known nativity scene, which was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in the small Italian village of Greccio 800 years ago.
As the pope recounted during today’s audience, St. Francis had just returned from his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1323, and was struck by the similarity of Greccio’s caves to the landscape of Bethlehem. The connection prompted the saint to call together both friars and local men and women to replicate the scene of Christ’s birth.
In turn, this year’s Vatican nativity scene should help people make the connection to the Holy Land, the pope said, especially to the plight of families caught in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“These are the ones who pay the real price of war,” the pope said, referring to the conflict that began on Oct. 7, and has resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 people and the displacement of over 2 million more.
The Pope also said that reflecting in front of every nativity scene should “awaken in us the nostalgia for silence and prayer, in our often so-hectic daily life.”
Silence, the pope continued, is the ability to “listen to what Jesus tells us from that singular “chair,” which is the manger.”
Pope Francis pointed to Mary as the model of this kind prayerful posture before the nativity scene.
“She says nothing, but she contemplates and adores,” he said.
The Pope also commented on this year’s Vatican Christmas tree. The fir tree has been decorated with edelweiss flowers grown in a nursery, as opposed to wild edelweiss flowers, which are legally protected in Italy.
“This too is a choice that makes us reflect, highlighting the importance of caring for our common home,” Pope Francis said. “Small gestures are essential in ecological conversion, gestures of respect and gratitude for God’s gifts.”
The community from Macra, located in the Alps in the far northwest of Italy, provided this year’s Christmas tree. The nativity scene was donated by the Diocese of Rieti, which is located just north of Rome and is the home of Greccio.
Following this evening’s ceremony, the nativity scene and Christmas tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, January 7, 2024.