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Pope Francis kisses a figurine of the baby Jesus as he begins an evening prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 31.

Vatican City

Christmas is time to feel God’s closeness, pope says

By CINDY WOODEN, Catholic News Service | Published January 9, 2014

VATICAN CITY (CNS)—Celebrating the first Christmas since his election, Pope Francis preached the goodness and tenderness of God, and prayed that men and women around the world would allow God’s grace to transform them into peacemakers.

“Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress,” the pope said Dec. 25, standing on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and addressing an estimated 70,000 people in the square below.

“God is peace,” the pope said. “Let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.”

“My hope is that everyone will feel God’s closeness, live in his presence, love him and adore him,” Pope Francis said before delivering his Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi”(to the city and the world).

Instead of reading Christmas greetings in more than 50 languages as his predecessors had done, Pope Francis spoke only in Italian.

As is traditional, his Christmas address included prayers and pleas for peace in war-torn and tense countries around the world, including Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Israel and Palestine and Iraq, where a car bomb exploded outside a church a few hours earlier, killing at least a dozen people.

Looking at the Christ child, “our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars,” he said. Offering a prayer, he asked God to “look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers.”

“Wars shatter and hurt so many lives,” he said.

“True peace is not a balance of opposing forces,” he said, and it is not “a lovely façade” simply covering conflicts and divisions. Rather, “peace calls for daily commitment—it’s homemade—starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.”

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis asked nonbelievers who feel unable to pray to “enlarge their hearts” by ardently desiring peace.

The pope’s Christmas celebrations began in the crisp air of a cloudless winter night when he celebrated Christmas Mass Dec. 24 in St. Peter’s Basilica, starting his homily with the first line from the night’s reading from Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

In his homily, the pope said that from the moment God called Abraham, believers in the one God have been a walking, pilgrim people, and through all the wandering, God has never left his people’s side.