On Christmas Eve in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI preached a powerful homily in St. Peter’s Basilica, saying that Christmas shows God’s will to save people from sin and violence. The next day, Pope Benedict XVI repeated the message in his “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) Christmas message. “The child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace,” the Pope said December 25 as he stood on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and gave his solemn Christmas blessing. Tens of thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the noon address and blessing. Under bright sunny skies, they listened to the music of military bands, admired the Vatican’s Nativity scene and snapped pictures of the Swiss Guards, who were wearing armor over their colorful medieval uniforms. In his Christmas message, as in his homily at Mass the night before, Pope Benedict spoke about God’s desire to save humanity.

“Come to save us!” the Pope cried out. “This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. Pope Benedict said most of the world’s problems are caused by human sin, “the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death.”

Just before the Pope appeared at the balcony, news agencies reported a bomb blast at a Catholic Church on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria. Initial reports said there were more than 10 dead. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the blast, “precisely on the occasion of the celebration of Christmas, unfortunately once again is a sign of the ruthlessness of a blind and absurd hatred that has no regard for human life and tries to create and increase more hatred and confusion.”

At midnight Mass December 24 in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope said, “God has appeared — as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace.” Then the Pope went on to make a powerful plea for peace, and for the Lord’s intervention against war-makers. “At this hour,” the Pope said, “when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: ‘O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph.  And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you.  We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God.  In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.” Before Christ’s birth, ancient people feared that God might be “cruel and arbitrary.” Instead, Christmas proves that “God is pure goodness,” the pope said.

He said Christmas is about the birth of the savior, the prince of peace, and not some sappy sentimentality. “Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity,” he said. “Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.” At the end of the Mass, the children took the flowers to the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Basilica, where a deacon placed the statue of baby Jesus. The Pope followed behind them on his mobile platform and when everything was in place, fake snow began to fall on the scene. It was the first time such snow has ever fallen in the basilica, according to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

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