VATICAN CITY (AP) — Recalling Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem, Pope Francis in a Christmas Eve homily said that “the clash of arms even today” prevents Jesus “from finding room in the world.”
The pontiff presided Sunday over the evening Mass attended by about 6,500 faithful who took their place amid the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica behind rows of white-clad prelates.
“Our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war, ” the pope said, referring to the war sparked by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 rampage and hostage-taking in Israel.
As Mass began, a statuette of the Christ child was unveiled before the altar bedecked in greenery and white flowers, and children representing all corners of the globe placed flowers around a gilded throne.
Francis, draped in white robes, led the Mass standing at the foot of one of St. Peter’s grand columns.
Recalling that Jesus was born during a census meant to reinforce King David’s power, Francis warned against “the quest for worldly power and might, fame and glory, which measures everything in terms of success, results, numbers and figures, a world obsessed with achievement.”
By contrast, Jesus entered the world humbly, taking human flesh. “Here, we see not a god of wrath and chastisement, but the God of mercy, who takes flesh and enters the world in weakness,’’ the pope said.
A pagan deity is linked to “power, worldly success and idolatry of consumerism,” the pope said. “God, on the other hand, waves no magic want; he is no god of commerce who promises everything all at once. He does not save us by pushing a button, but draws near us, in order to change our world from within.”
When the Christmas Eve Mass ended, the pope, pushed in a wheelchair, moved down the basilica with the life-sized statue of Baby Jesus on his lap and flanked by children carrying bouquets. The statue was placed in a manger in a nativity scene in the basilica.
Francis, 87, has been using a wheelchair to navigate long distances due to a painful knee ligament and a cane for shorter distances.
During the traditional Angelus blessing overlooking St. Peter’s Square at midday, the pontiff remembered those suffering from war, recalling specific fighting in Ukraine and Israel’s bombardment and siege of the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas’ attack.
“We are close to our brothers and sisters suffering from war. We think of Palestine, Israel, Ukraine. We also think of those who suffer from misery, hunger, slavery,’’ Francis said. “May the God who took a human heart for himself infuse humanity into the hearts of men,” he added.
Speaking from the window of his studio to the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus prayer, the pontiff also invited the faithful “not to confuse celebration with consumerism. One can and, as a Christian, must celebrate in simplicity without waste and by sharing with those who lack necessities or lack companionship.”
Traditionally, Catholics mark Christmas Eve by attending Mass at midnight. But over the years, the starting time at the Vatican has crept earlier, reflecting the health or stamina of popes and then the pandemic. The Vatican has kept a 7:30 p.m. time originally set during a pandemic curfew.
On Christmas Day, tens of thousands of Romans, tourists and pilgrims were expected to crowd into St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Francis deliver an address on world issues and give his blessing. The speech, known in Latin as “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world), is traditionally an occasion to review crises including war, persecution and hunger, in many parts of the globe.