Pope Francis has defended the Christmas practice of setting up the Nativity scene especially in public places and town squares, which is under attack in liberal Northern America and secularist Europe.
He has issued this month the apostolic exhortation “Admirable Signum” (AS), calling the Bethlehem scene “a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.”
The Latin title of the letter refers to the “enchanting image” of the Christmas crèche, one that “never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder,” writes the Pope.
He signed the letter early this month during his visit of the Italian town of Greccio, where St. Francis of Assisi created the first crib scene in 1223 to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
“The Nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture,” writes Pope Francis.
The Pope expresses the hope that AS will not only encourage the family tradition of preparing the Nativity scene, “but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares.”
Praising the imagination and creativity that goes into the Bethlehem tableaux, Pope Francis says he hopes this custom will never be lost “and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.”
Perhaps because the Philippines, the only majority Catholic nation in Asia, has been religiously setting up the Nativity scene every Christmas, and has the most elaborate and longest Christmas celebration, Pope Franics on Dec. 15 celebrated in Rome the traditional Simbang Gabi (dawn Masses) with Filipinos.
In his homily, Pope Francis told Filipinos, “Continuate ad essere contrabandisti della fede!”
Fr. Gregory Gaston, rector of the Pontificio Collegio Filippino, translated the Pope’s Italian remarks as urging Filipinos migrant workers “to continue to be smugglers of the faith.”
Pope Francis told migrants “who have left your land in search of a better future” that they have a “special mission.”
“Your faith should be leaven in the parish communities to which you belong,” said the Pontiff, adding that Filipinos should increase opportunities for meeting to share their “culture and spiritual wealth.”
He added such encounters would also allow Filipinos “to be enriched by the experiences of others.”
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