Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Francis Holds His 1st Christmas Eve Mass

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Francis Holds His 1st Christmas Eve Mass

Article excerpt

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis lauded Jesus' humble beginning as a poor and vulnerable baby as he celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff Tuesday in St. Peter's Basilica.

"You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich, and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful, and you made yourself vulnerable," the pontiff said of Jesus as he delivered his homily in the basilica, packed with faithful.

Earlier, in the Holy Land, thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations, bringing warm holiday cheer to the biblical birthplace of Jesus on a cool, clear night.

The heavy turnout in Bethlehem, its highest in years, helped lift spirits in the town, as leaders expressed hope that the coming year would finally bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.

"The message of Christmas is a message of peace, love and brotherhood. We have to be brothers with each other," said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, as he arrived in town.

Pope Francis has dedicated much of his 9-month-old papacy to drawing attention to the plight of the poor, of children and other vulnerable members of society. He noted that the first to receive news of Jesus' birth were shepherds, who in society were considered "among the last, the outcast."

The Christmas Eve service is physically taxing for reigning popes. In recent years, it was moved earlier into the evening to allow them to have a few more hours' sleep before resuming their duties on Christmas Day. The bells of St. Peter's rang as Pope Francis, who turned 77 a week ago, walked briskly up the main aisle of the basilica for the ceremony, which began Tuesday 21/2 hours before midnight. On a regular day, the pope awakens before 5 a.m. and goes to bed before 10 p.m.

In a change from practice, Pope Francis personally kissed and placed a baby Jesus in a manger at the start the solemn service. At the end, he placed the statue in a Nativity scene, then kissed a group of children on their foreheads. …

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