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Pope Francis receives a small Nativity scene from a child during a meeting with the Italian Catholic Action movement at the Vatican Dec. 15.

Vatican City

At Christmas, God remains with us through war and poverty, pope says

By JUSTIN McLELLAN, Catholic News Service | Published December 15, 2023

VATICAN CITY (CNS)–The Christmas season is a reminder to Christians that despite hardships, God chose to join himself to humanity and still remains by its side, Pope Francis said.

“Christmas is a reminder that God loves us and wants to be with us,” the pope told a group of children at the Vatican Dec. 15 during a meeting with representatives from the Italian Catholic Action movement.

The Incarnation, he said, “is a stupendous gift, and it brings with it another: that we may also love one another as brothers and sisters.”

“How much we need this today,” he added, “so many people, so many children suffer because of war.”

The children, who came from 14 dioceses across Italy, brought with them large paper stars to remember the children who have died from conflicts.

Pope Francis recalled that more than 3,000 children have died in Gaza since the outbreak of war in the Holy Land, as well as the more than 500 children that have died in Ukraine and the thousands that died during the years of war in Yemen.

“Their memory, in turn, invites us to be lights for the world, to touch the hearts of many people, especially those who can stop the whirlwind of violence,” the pope said.

He added that only by loving God and loving one another “can the world rediscover the light and the peace that it needs” and which was proclaimed by the angels who announced Jesus’ birth.

As a Christmas gift, the children gave the pope sleeping bags and personal hygiene products to be given to the papal almoner and donated to people in need.

Later in the day, the pope met with the organizers of a Christmas concert hosted at the Vatican for people in need.

“With music you present a moment of encounter, of sharing,” he told them. “In a word: fraternity. This is very consistent with the message of Christmas.”

Reflecting on the concert’s title, “Christmas Concert with the Poor and for the Poor,” the pope said moving from an attitude of being “for” the poor to one of being “with” the poor is key.

“One starts from the ‘for’ but wants to reach the ‘with,’ and this is very Christian,” he said. “God came for us, but how? In what way? By coming to live with us, by even becoming like us.”

Although the mystery of the Incarnation “leaves us without words,” Pope Francis said “we can experience it in the encounter with the other that is different than myself: when my giving something to him or her becomes a receiving, it becomes a sharing, it becomes friendship.”

The pope encouraged the organizers to pray so that they may be moved from an attitude of “for” to one of “with,” because “music is not enough, lights are not enough, decorations are not enough, no, it takes prayer.”

The concert, in its fourth edition, was set to take place in the Paul VI Audience Hall Dec. 15. The orchestra and chorus of Rome’s opera theater were scheduled to perform classics by Mozart, Rossini and Tchaikovsky, as well as Christmas songs such as “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”