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Francis ready for first Christmas as pope

Pontiff tweets: 'It is the Lord' before holiday Midnight Mass

24 December, 18:38
Francis ready for first Christmas as pope (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Vatican City, December 24 - Pope Francis prepared Tuesday to celebrate his first Christmas Eve Mass as head of the Catholic Church. Shortly before the public event, the pope sent a new message on his Twitter account: @Pontifex.

"It is the Lord," tweeted the pope. "We wait for Him with an open heart!".

Crowds gathered under the towering Christmas tree erected in St. Peter's Square late Tuesday afternoon to watch the unveiling of the large nativity scene, donated by the Archdiocese of Naples.

Complete with life-sized figures the Nativity scene, representing the stable where Jesus was born, was titled: "Francis 1223 - Francis 2013" in recognition of the fact the pope took his name from the humble medieval St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis also instituted the concept of creating nativity scenes, with the first in 1223.

Later, Francis will celebrate late-evening Mass before a standing-room-only crowd in the Papal Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica, while thousands more watch on giant television screens in the square and millions more will follow from their homes around the world. Francis - who, since his election in March, has been urging Christians to embrace a more simple lifestyle - has been repeating that message this week, urging a renewed focus on God at Christmas, rather than spending and partying.

"Come and let's open our souls and may our souls be watchful in these days as we wait (for Christmas)," the pope said during Mass on Monday at Saint Martha's House, the Vatican guest house where he lives after spurning the luxury of the papal apartments.

"Watch what happens in us. See whether the Lord comes or does not come. See whether there is room for the Lord or there is room for parties, for shopping, for making noise," added Francis.

"Is our soul open, like the holy mother Church is open and the Virgin Mary was open? "Or is our soul closed and have we attached a very polite sign to the door that reads 'please do not disturb'?".

The Argentine pontiff reiterated the point with an earlier post on his Twitter account.

"Christmas celebrations are often full of sound," the pope tweeted.

"It would be good for us to make room for silence, to hear the voice of Love".

The pope will have many more opportunities to reiterate his message during the hectic Christmas holiday season that Francis has planned.

At noon on Christmas Day, Francis will deliver his Christmas message as well as the special "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and world) blessing given by the pope on such significant occasions as Easter and Christmas.

On New Year's Eve is the celebration of the first Vespers and the traditional signing of the Te Deum for the feast of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.

Then, on the morning of January 1, Francis will celebrate Mass and speak on the theme of the Church's 47th annual World Day of Peace, "Fraternity: the foundation and path for peace".

The cycle of the Christmas liturgies will conclude on January 6 with Mass celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, marking the baptism of Jesus, as well as a baptism of newborns in the Sistine Chapel.

In the roughly nine months since his election, Pope Francis has maintained a simple lifestyle but made some forceful moves to re-energize the Catholic Church, reform its management, widen its appeal, focus on social rather than doctrinal issues and renew a drive against clerical sex abuse.

"He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing," Time magazine recently said, as it named "the people's pope" its Person of the Year.

Elected after Benedict's shock resignation in February, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires has been widely hailed as ushering in a new era of Vatican reform while winning countless fans with his humility and man-of-the-people touch.

Francis has already become a "superstar", Time said.

"What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all," concluded the magazine.