The Christmas celebrations in Rome began with Christmas mass. Without directly addressing the war in Ukraine, Pope Francis castigated the military conflicts around the world. In addition, humanity, "which insatiably strives for money, power and pleasure", is losing sight of the poor and weak.
In his tenth Christmas mass, Pope Francis called for people to turn away from "consumerism" and rediscover the "meaning of Christmas". In front of around 7,000 people, the 86-year-old head of the Catholic Church prayed in St. Peter's Basilica for the "children who are being devoured by war, poverty and injustice". Also this Christmas "a humanity that insatiably strives for money, power and pleasure makes no room for the little ones, for the many unborn, poor, forgotten people, as it was with Jesus". Francis, who has been suffering from knee pain for months, held the Mass while seated.
The pontiff called for abandoning the "warmth of worldliness" and advocated a merciful church that puts itself at the service of the poor. He regrets that "people who lust for power and money exploit their relatives and brothers," Pope Francis said. Around 4,000 people followed the first Christmas mass after two years of strict corona restrictions on large screens set up on St. Peter's Square.
At noon, after his Christmas message, Pope Francis will give the festive blessing "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica. He is expected to devote a lot of space to the Ukraine war.
Yesterday afternoon, the traditional Christmas procession as a wagon convoy led from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, walked the last part of the way to Manger Square in Bethlehem. There he was received by Christian representatives.
Unlike in the past two Corona years, tens of thousands of visitors are expected over the Christmas holidays. Israel's Ministry of Tourism is prepared for around 120,000 pilgrims. In their Christmas message, the representatives of various churches in the Holy Land complained about an increase in attacks on Christians and discrimination. Young Christians no longer felt welcome in the land of their ancestors, and many of them left the region, it said. Therefore, the proportion of Christians has continued to fall. Of around five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, less than two percent are Christians. According to the most recent information from the Israeli Bureau of Statistics, around 185,000 Arab Christians live in Israel, making up around 1.9 percent of the population. Israel has around 9.6 million inhabitants, three quarters of them Jews.