As Vatican lights Christmas tree, Pope reflects on Nativity scene

Unveiling of the Nativity scene in St Peters Square Dec 9 2016 Credit Daniel Ibanez 6 CNA Unveiling of the Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square, Dec. 9, 2016. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

As Christmas approaches, the Nativity scenes found in churches and homes around the world bid us to make room for Jesus both in our lives and in society, Pope Francis said shortly before the lighting of the Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square Friday.

On Dec. 9, a massive 82-foot tree from the Dolomites was lit in St. Peter's Square, next to the nearly life-size Nativity scene, donated to the Vatican by the Archdiocese of Malta and designed by local artists.

An artist from the island of Gozo named Manwel Gretch created the sketch chosen for the Nativity, which depicts the Maltese countryside. The 17 characters in the Nativity, animals excluded, are dressed in typical Maltese clothing and holding tools and instruments.

The Nativity scenes found "in churches, in homes and in many public places are an invitation to make room in our lives and society for God, hidden in the face of so many people who are in conditions of hardship, poverty and tribulation," the Pope said during a meeting with the artist of the scene and a delegation from Malta and Trentino.

In his speech, the Pope referred to the presence in the scene of the traditional "Cross of Malta" and typical Maltese archipelago boat, representing not only the island's tradition, fishing and life, but also the reality faced by thousands of migrants when risking their lives to sail in makeshift boats to Italy.

Their experiences can be compared to that of the child Jesus, Francis noted, who didn't have a place to sleep at his birth, and soon after had to flee to Egypt with his parents to escape the threat of Herod.

How many people "will visit this Nativity scene," he said, "will be invited to rediscover the symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, of sharing, of welcome and solidarity."

"The Nativity scene and the tree thus form a message of hope and love, and help to create a favorable Christmas spirit to live with faith the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer," the Pope said.

God "came to earth in simplicity and meekness. Let us be drawn, with the intention of children, in front of the manger, because that is where we understand the goodness of God and contemplate his mercy, which was made human flesh in order to soften our gaze."

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