Pope Francis has celebrated Christmas Eve mass in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica, rounding out a year marked by his pleas for the world to better protect innocents caught up in wars, migrations and abject poverty.
As the Sistine Chapel choir sang Gloria and the basilica’s bells rang out across Rome, the Pope processed to the altar behind cardinals draped in golden vestments for the service celebrating the birth of Jesus.
The late night Mass was the first major event of the Christmas season, followed by Pope Francis’ noon Urbi et Orbi (To the city and the world) blessing on Christmas Day.
In an appeal to his followers, the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the Pope called for the faithful to not get caught up in the commercialisation of Christmas – “when we are concerned for gifts but cold toward those who are marginalised.”
Materialism has “taken us hostage this Christmas,” he said. “We have to free ourselves of it!”
The Pope has spent much of 2016 bemoaning the Islamic extremist violence that has driven Christians from Mideast communities that date to the time of Christ. He has demanded Europe in particular do more to welcome refugees, saying Jesus himself was a migrant who deserved more than being born in a manger.
He has also denounced the wasteful ways of the wealthy when children and the poor die of hunger every day.
In his homily, the Pope urged his flock to reflect on how children today aren’t always allowed to lie peacefully in a cot, loved by their parents as Jesus was, but rather “suffer the squalid mangers that devour dignity”.
Among the indignities, he said, are “hiding underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants.”
“Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who do have not toys in their hands, but rather weapons,” he added.