BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories: Pope Francis assailed the “insatiable greed” of today’s consumerism at the Vatican and pilgrims crowded into the church at the traditional site of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem on Tuesday as Christmas celebrations began worldwide, reports AFP.
Thousands attended mass on Monday night at the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica, where Pope Francis, the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, offered his Christmas homily.“An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive,” the 82-year-old pope said.
Pope Francis will deliver his sixth “Urbi et Orbi” address on Tuesday, Christmas Day—when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—to pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.
Visitors from across the world gathered in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve ahead of midnight mass, queueing to see the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born and taking in a festive parade.
In the “little town” in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian scouts and a bagpipe band paraded in Manger Square across from the Church of the Nativity, built where Christians say Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Crowds, some wearing Santa hats or holding balloons, looked on at the square decked out with a giant Christmas tree and a manger as carols in Arabic played through speakers.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in such a symbolic location for Christmas,” said Lea Gudel, a 21-year-old French student studying in Jerusalem, who was in Manger Square on Monday morning.Later in the day, musical groups took the stage at Manger Square in front of the Christmas tree, illuminated as night fell, to sing Christmas carols.
This year, visitors were also able to view the Church of the Nativity’s newly restored mosaics dating to the Crusader era after they were recently cleaned and repaired in a major project.
The first church was built on the site in the fourth century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century.
A newer and more spacious church, St. Catherine, is located next door to the basilica and is where midnight mass is held.
Hundreds of worshippers crowded into the stone church for the mass led by the Catholic archbishop for the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was among dignitaries in attendance. Pizzaballa in his homily spoke of a “responsibility of caring for the city and the land where we live.”
“Not to own or occupy it, but to transform it from a simple urban area of private services and personal interests, to an area and place that provides the experience of communion, peace, relationship and sharing.”
Bethlehem, located near Jerusalem but cut off from the city by Israel’s separation barrier, has seen an increase in visitors this season after several down years due to unrest linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.