‘Our hearts are in Bethlehem,’ Pope says at Christmas Eve mass

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Pope Francis

VATICAN CITY, De 25: In a poignant Christmas Eve homily, Pope Francis, amidst the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica, invoked the humble origins of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, lamenting that “the clash of arms even today” hinders the presence of Jesus in the world.

The Pontiff presided over the evening Mass on Sunday, attended by approximately 6,500 faithful, who gathered beneath the awe-inspiring arches of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis, draped in white robes, addressed the congregation, reflecting on the ongoing conflicts that disrupt the message of peace symbolized by the Christmas story.

“Our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war,” said the Pope, making a poignant reference to the recent conflict sparked by Hamas’ deadly rampage and hostage-taking in Israel on October 7.

As the Mass commenced, a statuette of the Christ child was revealed before the altar adorned with greenery and white flowers. Children representing diverse corners of the globe placed flowers around a gilded throne, emphasizing the universality of the Christmas message.

Francis, standing at the foot of St. Peter’s grand columns, drew parallels between Jesus’ birth during a census reinforcing King David’s power and the contemporary pursuit of worldly power and glory. He warned against a world “obsessed with achievement,” contrasting it with Jesus’ humble entry into the world.

The Pope emphasized, “Here, we see not a god of wrath and chastisement, but the God of mercy, who takes flesh and enters the world in weakness.”

Following the conclusion of the Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis, aided by a wheelchair due to a painful knee ligament, moved down the basilica with a life-sized statue of Baby Jesus on his lap. Accompanied by children carrying bouquets, the statue was reverently placed in a manger as part of the nativity scene within the basilica.

During the traditional Angelus blessing at midday, overlooking St. Peter’s Square, the Pope expressed solidarity with those suffering from war, specifically mentioning conflicts in Ukraine and Israel’s actions in response to Hamas’ attack in the Gaza Strip.

“We are close to our brothers and sisters suffering from war. We think of Palestine, Israel, Ukraine,” said Francis. He urged for compassion towards those enduring misery, hunger, and slavery, emphasizing the need for humanity to be infused into the hearts of all.

In his address to the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis cautioned against confusing celebration with consumerism, encouraging simplicity, and sharing with those in need.

On Christmas Day, tens of thousands were expected to gather in St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Francis deliver a message on global issues and offer his blessing. The speech, known as “Urbi et Orbi” in Latin, traditionally reviews global crises, including war, persecution, and hunger, echoing the spirit of hope and peace at the heart of Christmas.

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