Pope: Advent, the Sunday of joy, appeal and prayer for six nuns abducted in Nigeria

During the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed for the sisters and all kidnap victims: "may they all, on the occasion of Christmas, finally return to their homes." Believers must wait for the Lord who comes with “constant joy, persevering prayer and continual thanksgiving”. The pontiff told the children from the Roman oratories, who came to the square for the blessing of the "Bambinelli", that “If we take away Jesus, what remains of Christmas? An empty holiday.” Happy birthday to Pope Francis.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis recited the Angelus prayer with pilgrims in St Peter’s Square. Before the Marian prayer, he said that “constant joy, persevering prayer and continual thanksgiving" are the “spirit” with which believers must experience the period of Advent.

After the prayer, the pontiff called for the release of six sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ, abducted about a month ago from their convent in Iguoriakhi (Nigeria). "I pray with insistence for them and for all the other persons who find themselves in this painful condition: may they all, on the occasion of Christmas, finally return to their homes.” The pontiff then urged everyone to recite together a Hail Mary for all kidnap victims.

Earlier, the Pope explained the meaning of today's celebration, the third of Advent, called the "Sunday of Joy", taken from the words of Saint Paul in today's reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24) that "invites us to prepare for the coming of the Lord by assuming three attitudes: constant joy, persevering prayer and continual thanksgiving."

The first attitude means “always remain in joy, even when things do not go according to our desires. Anxieties, difficulties and sufferings permeate our lives, and so many times the reality around us seems to be inhospitable and arid, like the desert in which the voice of John the Baptist resounded, as the Gospel of today recalls (cf. Jn, 1:23). But the words of the Baptist reveal that our joy rests on the certainty that this desert is inhabited: "Among you there is one whom you do not know" (Jn, 1:26).

“This is Jesus, the envoy of the Father who comes, as Isaiah underlines, ‘to bring the good news to the poor, to bind the wounds of broken hearts, to proclaim the freedom of slaves, the release of prisoners, to promulgate the year of grace of the Lord’ (61,1-2).”

The second attitude, "persevering prayer", emphasises that “Through prayer we can enter into a stable relationship with God, who is the source of true joy. The joy of the Christian comes from faith and from the encounter with Jesus Christ, the reason for our happiness. The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we find inner serenity, even in the midst of everyday contradictions.

“That is why the Christian, having met Jesus, cannot be a prophet of misfortune, but a witness and a herald of joy. A joy to share with others; a contagious joy that makes life's journey less tiring.”

The third attitude, “the continuous yield of graces,” is “the grateful love of God. He is indeed very generous with us, and we are invited to always recognize His gifts, His merciful love, His patience. and goodness, thus living in an endless state of thanksgiving.

“Joy, prayer and gratitude are three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas in an authentic way. In this last part of Advent, we entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary. She is ‘the cause of our joy’, not only because she is the Mother of Jesus, but because she continually leads us to Him.”

After the Marian prayer and the appeal for the abducted nuns, Francis greeted the children from the Roman oratories, who came to the square for the blessing of the "Bambinelli", the small statues of the Baby Jesus that will be placed in the nativity scene.

"Dear children,” said the Pope, “I thank you for your joyous presence and I wish you a merry Christmas! When you pray at home, in front of the nativity scene with your families, allow yourself to be drawn to the tenderness of the Baby Jesus, born poor and fragile among us in order to give us his love. This is the true Christmas. If we take away Jesus, what is left of Christmas? An empty holiday. Jesus is the centre of Christmas."

Among the many signs carried in the square, some wished Pope Francis happy birthday. The Holy Father is 81 years old today.