Christmas proclaims hope, charity where fear reigns, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christmas calls believers to see God’s
presence where he is often perceived as absent, especially in the
“unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities
and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our doors,”
Pope Francis said.

“Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into
the power of charity,” the pope said Dec. 24 as he celebrated Christmas Mass.

The evening silence enveloping St. Peter’s Square was broken
by the pealing of church bells following the proclamation of Jesus’ birth
during the Christmas Mass.

Pope Francis walked toward the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica,
and stood while the cantor sang the solemn “Christmas proclamation,”
recounting the timing of Christ’s birth in human history.

He then removed a cloth that revealed a statue of the baby Jesus
and gently leaned forward, reverently kissing it.

In his homily, Pope Francis said the “simple
story” of Jesus’ birth recounted in St. Luke’s Gospel brings Christians to
“the heart of that holy night” and “plunges us into the event
that changes our history forever.”

“Everything, on that night, became a source of
hope,” the pope said.

While Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem was full of
expectation and hope for the coming birth of Jesus, the pope said, it was also
a journey full of the same uncertainties and dangers that await those “who
have to leave their home behind.”

In Mary and Joseph’s footsteps, he said, “so many other
footsteps are hidden.”

“We see the footsteps of entire families forced to set out
in our own day. We see the footsteps of millions of people who do not choose to
go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones,” he

For some people, the departure is filled with hope for the
future, he said. “Yet for many others, this departure can only have one
name: survival. Surviving the Herods of today who, to impose their power and
increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood.”

On that Christmas night, he continued, the announcement of
“the one who had no place to be born” was proclaimed to poor
shepherds — men and women who “had no place at the table or in the streets
of the city.”

Although feared and considered “pagans among the
believers, sinners among the just and foreigners among the citizens,” the
pope said, it was the shepherds who were chosen to receive the good news of
Christ’s birth from the angel.

“This is the joy that we tonight are called to share,
to celebrate and to proclaim. The joy with which God, in his infinite mercy,
has embraced us pagans, sinners and foreigners, and demands that we do the
same,” the pope said.

Pope Francis called on all Christians to be “messengers
of hope” to those who cast aside in the world, and he prayed that the cry
of the little child of Bethlehem would “shake us from our indifference and
open our eyes to those who are suffering.”

“May your tenderness awaken our sensitivity and
recognize our call to see you in all those who arrive in our cities, in our
histories, in our lives,” the pope prayed. “May your revolutionary
tenderness persuade us to feel our call to be agents of the hope and tenderness
of our people.”

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