VATICAN CITY (AP) — Recalling Jesus’ birth in a stable, Pope Francis rebuked those “ravenous” for wealth and power at the expense of the vulnerable, including children, in a Christmas Eve homily decrying war, poverty and greedy consumerism.
In the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis presided over the evening Mass attended by about 7,000 faithful, including tourists and pilgrims.
In his homily, Francis drew lessons from the humility of Jesus’ first hours of life in a manger.
“While animals feed in their stalls, men and women in our world, in their hunger for wealth and power, consume even their neighbors, their brothers and sisters,” the pontiff lamented. “How many wars have we seen! And in how many places, even today, are human dignity and freedom treated with contempt!”
“As always, the principal victims of this human greed are the weak and the vulnerable,’’ said Francis, who didn’t cite any specific conflict or situation.
“This Christmas, too, as in the case of Jesus, a world ravenous for money, power and pleasure does not make room for the little ones, for the so many unborn, poor and forgotten children,’’ the pope said, reading his homily with a voice that sounded tired and almost hoarse. “I think above all of the children devoured by war, poverty and injustice.”
Still, the pontiff exhorted people to take heart.
“Do not allow yourself to be overcome by fear, resignation or discouragement.” Jesus’ lying in a manger shows where “the true riches in life are to be found: not in money and power, but in relationships and persons.”
“Dear brothers, dear sisters, at Christmas, God is poor: let charity be reborn!” the pope exclaimed, and urged people do “not let this Christmas pass without doing something good.”
Traditionally, Catholics mark Christmas Eve by attending Mass at midnight. But over the years, the starting time has crept forward, reflecting the health or stamina of popes and then the pandemic.
Two years ago, the start of Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica was moved up to 7:30 p.m. to allow faithful to get home before for a nighttime curfew imposed by the Italian government as a measure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Although virtually all pandemic-triggered restrictions have long been lifted in Italy, the Vatican kept to the early start time.
During Saturday evening’s service, a choir sang hymns. Clusters of potted red poinsettia plants near the altar contrasted with the cream-colored vestments of the pontiff.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of Romans, tourists and pilgrims were expected to crowd into St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Francis deliver an address on world issues and give his blessing. The speech, known in Latin as “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world), generally is an occasion to review crises including war, persecution and hunger, in many parts of the globe.