The Vatican is preparing its traditional Nativity scene and giant Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Benedict said the display and tree help create the right context in which to experience the “mystery” of Jesus’ birth.
Behind a curtain wall encircling the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, laborers and construction workers are building the Vatican’s Nativity scene. Meanwhile, tailors are preparing the costumes for the larger-than-life statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Pope Benedict XVI said the Christmas tree enriches the “symbolic value” of the Nativity scene, whose message is one of fraternity and friendship. The Nativity scene is also an invitation to unity and peace and an invitation to “make space for God in our life and society.”
“He offers us His omnipotent love through the fragile figure of a child, because He wants us to respond freely with our own love,” he continued. Together, the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree help create the right spiritual and religious context “in which to experience the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer.”
This year, the traditional Nativity scene figures will be complemented by a set of nine Filipino figures designed by Kublai Ponce-Millan, according to the Filipino bishops' conference. These include musicians playing indigenous instruments and a family in a boat pulling a burgeoning fishnet. The scene also includes baskets filled with different Philippine tropical fruits, vegetables, fishes and shells intended to highlight the bountiful harvest of the earth and sea.
The work is expected to be finished on Dec. 24, in time for the official opening and blessing that evening. Pope Benedict XVI will participate in the unveiling ceremony from the window of the papal apartments.
Mercedes Tuason, Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See, presented the project to the Governorate of the Vatican City State to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the Holy See.
In a letter to Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the president of the governorate of Vatican City State, Tuason said the inclusion of the figures will be “most meaningful” for Filipinos, since Christmas is perhaps their most popular celebration.
In response, Cardinal Lajolo said the gesture would be meaningful for the “vast” Filipino community in Italy, which he described as “hard working” with “great faith and family values.”
Workers in St. Peter’s Square are also preparing the Christmas tree donated by the town of Luson in Bolzano province of northern Italy. The 93-year-old tree, a Norway spruce, is more than 110 feet high. Cardinal Lajolo presided over a public ceremony on the evening of Dec. 17 in which the tree was lit.
The town of Luson has also donated 50 smaller trees to decorate various sites in the Vatican.
The 2010 Christmas tree is one of the tallest the Vatican has ever used. In past years the giant trees have come from other areas of Italy, Austria and Belgium.