Slovenia donated the Christmas tree as a symbol of gratitude for the Vatican's support of the country's independence movement on the 30th anniversary of Slovenia's independence from Yugoslavia.
"John Paul II ... understood very well the situation in that time, what was going on, not only in Slovenia or Yugoslavia at that time, but also in Europe. So he understood the big changes that were going on and he was really personal, very much involved and engaged in the process," Štunf said.
"Slovenia is actually recognized as one of the greenest countries in the world. … More than 60% of the Slovenian territory is covered by forests," he said, adding that this tree could be considered a gift from the "green heart of Europe."
The tree from Slovenia's Kočevje forests is 75 years old, weighs 70 tons, and is 30 meters tall.
It was lit Dec. 11 in a ceremony led by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello and Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president and secretary general of the governorate of Vatican City State respectively. At the ceremony, this year's Vatican nativity scene was also unveiled.
The nativity scene consists of 19 larger than life-size ceramic statues made in the 1960s and 1970s by teachers and alumni of an art institute in the Italian region of Abruzzo.
Among the statues is a figure of an astronaut, which was added to the nativity at the time it was created to celebrate the 1969 landing on the moon, Alessia Di Stefano, the local tourism minister, told EWTN.
In recent years, the Vatican's nativity scene has been made of different materials, from traditional Neapolitan figures to sand.
A more traditional Italian nativity scene with moving figures is also displayed in the baptistery chapel of St. Peter's Basilica. The painted angels from the chapel's grand mosaic of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River appear to hover above the scene's wooden manger, which is surrounded by poinsettias and a long row of kneelers for pilgrims who wish to contemplate the nativity in prayer.
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"Angels Unawares," the image of the Holy Family in the migrant sculpture in St. Peter's Square, has also been illuminated for the first time for the Advent and Christmas seasons.
Both the tree and nativity scenes will be displayed until Jan. 10, 2021, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
On Friday, Pope Francis met with a delegation from Slovenia and from the Italian region of Abruzzo involved in the creation of this year's Christmas displays in St. Peter's Square.
"The feast of Christmas reminds us that Jesus is our peace, our joy, our strength, our comfort," the pope said.
"But, to welcome these gifts of grace, we need to feel small, poor and humble like the characters in the nativity."