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Baby Jesus reminds us of painful plight of migrants, pope says

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Baby Jesus reminds us of painful plight of migrants, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Christmas tree and Nativity scene
are symbols of God’s love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of
creation and welcome the marginalized, Pope Francis said.

Baby Jesus, whose parents could find no decent shelter and
had to flee persecution, is a reminder of the “painful experience” of
so many migrants today, he said Dec. 9, just before the Vatican Christmas tree
was to be lit and its Nativity scene was to be unveiled.

Nativity scenes all over the world “are an invitation
to make room in our life and society for God — hidden in the gaze of so many
people” who are living in need, poverty or suffering, he told people
involved in donating the tree and creche for St. Peter’s Square.

The northern Italian province of Trent donated the 82-foot-tall
spruce fir, which was adorned with ceramic ornaments handmade by children
receiving medical treatment at several Italian hospitals.

The 55-foot-wide Nativity scene was donated by the
government and Archdiocese of Malta. It features 17 figures dressed in
traditional Maltese attire as well as replica of a Maltese boat to represent
the seafaring traditions of the island.

The boat also represents “the sad and tragic reality of
migrants on boats headed toward Italy,” the pope said in his speech in the
Vatican’s Paul VI hall.

“In the painful experience of these brothers and
sisters, we revisit that (experience) of baby Jesus, who at the time of his
birth did not find accommodation and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem and then
was brought to Egypt to escape Herod’s threat.”

“Those who visit this creche will be invited to
rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing,
welcoming and solidarity,” the pope said.

The beauty of the pristine forests of northern Italy where
the tree grew “is an invitation to contemplate the creator and to respect
nature,” he said, adding that “we are all called to approach creation
with contemplative awe.”

The Nativity scene and tree will remain in St. Peter’s
Square until the feast of the Lord’s Baptism Jan. 9.

Archbishop Lauro Tisi of Trent, speaking at the
tree-lighting ceremony as the sun set, told people in St. Peter’s Square that
the towering tree had lived decades — decades that saw thousands of people
from the region emigrate in search of work in the early 1900s. It’s
unconscionable, he said, that people today refuse to welcome those coming from
poorer places with the same needs and dreams.

Manwel Grech, a sculptor of religious statues from Gozo,
Malta, won a contest to make the Nativity scene. It was dream to create art for
the Vatican and have it exhibited in the square where thousands of people from
around the world will see it.

With more than a dozen statues of people and a menagerie of
animals and other elements in the scene, Grech is a bit of a traditionalist:
Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are his favorites among the resin sculptures.

He wanted Mary to have a peaceful face because “when
you see Jesus, you relax,” he said, and he tried to give Joseph a look of

Grech included several very Maltese touches in the Nativity
scene: A traditional balcony decorated with a Maltese cross; a statue of St.
George Preca, the country’s only canonized saint; and a “luzzu,” the
traditional Maltese fishing boat, which also reminds people of the journeys of
migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

Between the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree, the
Vatican placed the cross and chunks of the facade of the Basilica of St.
Benedict in Norcia, Italy. The basilica was destroyed by an earthquake in
October and dozens of other churches in central Italy crumbled or were heavily
damaged. Money left at the Nativity scene by visitors will be donated to the
church rebuilding effort in Norcia.

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.


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