12/11/2005, 00.00
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Pope: Mary and the crib against the commercial "pollution" of Christmas

The ancient tradition of the crib: an effective way of transmitting the faith to one's children. The pope blessed all the "Baby Jesus" statuettes presented by children of Rome.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Christmas is at risk of "commercial pollution which threatens to change its authentic spirit, which is characterized by meditation". During today's Angelus, Benedict XVI proposed two ways to tackle this danger, both focusing on the true sense of the upcoming feast: allowing oneself to be "accompanied by Mary" in prayer and love of Christ and following "the beautiful and consolidated tradition of making the crib" in the family, as a way of communicating the faith to children, but also as a "means of evangelization" in popular culture. In recent decades, Christmas, although a Christian feast, has become one of the international seasons of celebration marked by widespread commercial gains. However, its increased popularity has often been at the expense of its Christian origin as its meaning is forgotten even among Christians.

As for the crib, after years of neglect – and at times of direct opposition to the Christmas tree, considered "pagan" – this depiction of the scene of the Nativity of Jesus with its backdrop and statues, is once again spreading in Italy and the Christian world. This revival is often streaked with nostalgia and sentimentalism. The pope recalled that the crib helps "to understand the secret of the true Christmas, because it speaks of the humility and of the merciful goodness of Christ, who "although he was rich, because poor for us". As per tradition, many girls and boys from Rome's oratories and parishes brought little statues of the Baby Jesus to St Peter's Square to be blessed by the pope. Benedict XVI said that through this gesture, he was invoking the "Lord's help for Christian families", that they may celebrate the coming Christmas with faith.

Here is the text of the pope's address before the Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters!

After having celebrated the feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception, we enter these days into the striking climate of preparation for the Holy Christmas. In today's consumeristic society, alas, this period has undergone a sort of commercial "pollution", which threatens to change its authentic spirit, characterised by meditation, by sobriety, and by an intimate rather than external joy. And so it is providential that, almost like an entrance to Christmas, there is the feast of She who is the Mother of Jesus, and who can lead us to know, love and adore the Son of God made man better than anyone else can. Let us then allow Her to accompany us; let her sentiments animate us, so that we will prepare ourselves with sincerity of heart and openness of spirit to recognise the Son of God in the Child in Bethlehem, who came to earth for our redemption. Let us walk together with Her in prayer, and welcome the oft-repeated invitation which the Advent Liturgy extends to us, to be in waiting, a watchful and joyful waiting because the Lord will not delay: He comes to free his people from sin.

In many families, following a beautiful and consolidated tradition, the preparation of the Crib follows soon after the feast of the Immaculate Conception, as though to relive together with Mary these days full of trepidation which preceded the birth of Jesus. Making the Crib at home can turn out to be a simple but effective way of presenting the faith to transmit it to one's children. The Crib helps us to contemplate the mystery of God's love which revealed itself in the poverty and simplicity of the grotto in Bethlehem. St Francis of Assisi was so taken by the mystery of the Incarnation that he wanted to present it once again in the living Crib in Greccio, becoming thus the man who started the long popular tradition which still today conserves its value for evangelization. The Crib may in fact help us to understand the secret of the true Christmas, because it talks about the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who "although he was rich, became poor" (2 Cor 8,9) for us. His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace for all those who, like the shepherds in Bethlehem, welcome the words of the gospel:  "This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). This remains the sign, for us too, men and women of 2000. There is no other Christmas.

As the beloved John Paul II used to do, soon I too will bless the statues of the Baby Jesus which the children of Rome will put in the Crib in their homes. With this gesture, I want to invoke the Lord's help so that all Christian families will prepare to celebrate the upcoming Christmas festivities with faith. Mary helps us to enter into the true spirit of Christmas.

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