“Nobody should be afraid of Bethlehem, which is a sign of brotherhood, intimacy and friendship that harms no one,” said Cardinal Bertone. This year, he added, “some people were afraid of Nativity scenes and it seemed they did want them in schools, cities, and public places.”
Nativity scenes, he explained, “are a reminder for believers and non-believers, an invitation to family intimacy and to a positive relationship with God.”
Created in 1972 by a Roman street cleaner, the “Nativity Scene of the Street Cleaners” is the most popular Christmas crèche in Rome. It consists of a very detailed recreation of first-century Palestine, with 95 miniature homes and two hundred figures.
The first Pope to visit the scene was Paul VI in 1974. But it was John Paul II who made it popular throughout Rome with his annual visits to the crèche each year until 2002, when health problems prevented him from leaving the Vatican. Benedict XVI visited the scene in 2005, and this past Christmas he received a group of the street cleaners in private audience. Over the years the mayors of Rome have visited the scene, and one year Mother Teresa of Calcutta made a visit.
During a visit this week to the nativity scene put up each year by the street cleaners of Rome, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, said neither Europe nor the self-proclaimed “modern” world should fear Christian symbols, especially Nativity scenes.