Christina Farrell reports on Pope's first hectic festive season
POPE BENEDICT XVI marked his first Christmas as Pontiff with a wake-up call to the world to beware of the spiritual barrenness that threatens to overwhelm humanity.
The Pope celebrated Midnight Mass at St Peter's Basilica and then delivered his traditional Urbi et Orbi message — to the city of Rome and to the world — on Christmas Day. On Boxing Day, the feast of St Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, he paid tribute to ancient and modern martyrs who had given their lives in defence of the faith.
The Christmas celebrations began with the symbolic lighting of a candle for peace at the window of the papal apartments. Hours later the Pope processed into the basilica, where children of many nations brought flowers to a small statue of baby Jesus at the foot of the altar. In his homily he focused on the all-powerful God coming to humanity "as a defenceless child" and he used the Incarnation to highlight the evil of abortion. The splendour of Jesus's birth still shines on every child, he said, "even those still unborn".
Benedict told the packed basilica that the shepherds, the first men to hear of Jesus's birth, were simple souls, watchful and ready, "waiting for the light which would show them the way".
"This is what is important for God," he told them. "But some persons have closed their hearts; there is no door by which his love can enter. They think that they do not need God, nor do they want him."
He said: "Into their expectant hearts, God's light can enter, and with it, his peace."
At noon on Christmas Day the Pope gave his blessing to the world from the balcony where, in April last year, he was proclaimed as the successor to John Paul II. Over 40,000 people had gathered in the rain in the square below to hear his message and millions more watched on television.
Again the Pope called for the people of today to let Christ enter their homes.
He warned that in our technological age "we risk becoming victims of our own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart".
"Wake up, oh men and women of the third millennium," he said. "At Christmas the Almighty becomes a child and asks for our help and protection. By knocking at our door he challenges us and our freedom; he calls us to examine how we understand and live our lives."
But the Pope offered words of comfort too, insisting that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of humanity truly become clear.
"Men and women of today, humanity come of age yet often still so frail in mind and will, let the Child of Bethlehem take you by the hand!" he said. "Do not fear; put your trust in Him! The life-giving power of this light is an incentive for building a new world order based on just ethical and economic rela
tionships." And heurged a "united humanity" to fight the menace of terrorism, humiliating poverty, the proliferation of weapons and the destruction of the environment which threatens the planet.
Benedict also made special mention of individual countries where famine, war and human misery threaten to undermine all humanity. He called for the God of love to strengthen the work for peace in Africa and togive the people of Latin America, the Holy Land, Iraq and Lebanon the courage to live in harmony.
"At Christmas we contemplate God made man, divine glory hidden beneath the poverty of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
"The. Redeemer becomes one of us: it is a hand which seeks to take nothing from us, but only to give."