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Pope Francis inaugurates Vatican nativity scene Tuesday

First Christmas Eve Mass by Argentine pontiff elected in March

24 December, 12:57
Pope Francis inaugurates Vatican nativity scene Tuesday (ANSA) - Vatican City, December 24 - As Pope Francis prepared Tuesday to celebrate his first Christmas Eve Mass as head of the Catholic Church, he was also set for the traditional inauguration of a large nativity scene erected in St. Peter's Square inside the Vatican.

The life-size nativity scene, donated by the Archdiocese of Naples, has been under wraps awaiting the unveiling by Francis, who took the name of the humble saint from Assisi who is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223.

Later, the pope will celebrate Mass before a standing-room-only crowd in the Papal Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica, while thousands 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 the Santa Marta residence, 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 a post on his Twitter account, @Pontifex.

"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 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.

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.