Pope Considers St. Francis' Role in Christmas

Notes How Feast Developed in Middle Ages

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- While the celebration of Easter focuses on God's power, the Christmas feast shows a God who comes without weapons or strength in the hopes that man will receive him, Benedict XVI says.

And this image of God made a Child is particularly visible in the Nativity scene, a tradition that has marked the Christian celebration of Christmas and which can be traced to St. Francis of Assisi. In Greccio, Italy, he made the first Nativity scene in 1223.

The Holy Father reflected on St. Francis' role in the development of the Christmas celebration during the general audience today in Paul VI Hall.

"With St. Francis and his nativity, the defenseless love of God was shown, his humility and goodness, which in the incarnation of the Word is manifested to man so as to teach a new way to live and to love," he said.

The Pontiff explained how a biographer of the saint recounts a vision Francis was given at the famous Christmas celebration in Greccio: "He saw a little child lying still in a manger; the child woke up because Francis approached. And [the biographer] adds: 'This vision was not different than real life, since through the work of his grace acting by way of his holy servant Francis, the Child Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of many.'"

So near

Benedict XVI affirmed: "Thanks to St. Francis, the Christian people have been able to perceive that at Christmas, God truly has become Emmanuel, God-with-us, from whom no barrier or distance can separate us. In this Child, God has come so near to each one of us, so close, that we can address him with confidence and maintain with him a trusting relationship of deep affection, as we do with a newborn.

"In this Child, in fact, God-Love is manifested: God comes without weapons, without strength, because he does not aim to conquer, we could say, from without, but rather wants to be welcomed by man in liberty. God becomes a defenseless Child to conquer man's pride, violence and desire to possess. In Jesus, God took up this poor and defenseless condition to conquer with love and lead us to our true identity."

The Pope invited the faithful to pray to the Father, "so that he concedes to our hearts this simplicity that recognizes the Lord in this Child, precisely as Francis did in Greccio."

"Then," he said, "we too can experience what [...] happened to those present [...] 'Each one returned to his house filled with an ineffable joy.'"

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Full text: http://www.zenit.org/article-27930?l=english