VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis condemned on Monday human greed and consumerism, reminding Christians during a traditional Christmas Eve Mass that “the food of life is not material riches but love.”
“In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects,” the pontiff said in a homily.
“An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive,” he added.
The pope’s Christmas Eve service inside St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is one of the most important ceremonies in Catholic liturgy, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Francis entered a packed basilica just before 9:30 pm (2030 GMT). He was preceded by a procession of about 40 cardinals wearing golden robes.
Meanwhile, the pope’s deputy, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, led a parallel Christmas Eve service in Baghdad, in a sign of solidarity with Iraq’s embattled Christian minority.
In St Peter’s, before Mass, the pope lifted a cloth covering a baby Jesus figure, and 10 children from Italy, China, Panama, Congo, Romania and Japan laid flowers by the shrine.
At the end of the 90-minute service, the pontiff picked up the doll-size Jesus figure and, escorted by the children, took it to a nativity scene inside the basilica.
If we think of the manger where Jesus was born, “we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity,” the pope said.
At Christmas, “we must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism” and we should ask ourselves: “do I break my bread with those who have none?” he added.
As pope, Francis has made a point of shunning pomp and protocol to spend time with the destitute, visiting prisons, hospitals, migrant camps or inviting the homeless into the Vatican for a meal with him.
Christmas marks the end of a particularly challenging year for the Argentinian pontiff, in which the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis festered and the pope’s ability to handle it was put in doubt.
In a speech to Vatican officials on Friday, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics renewed a pledge to put an end to scandals and go down hard on predator priests.
“To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,” Francis said.
The pope’s Christmas-time engagements were due to continue Tuesday with the traditional Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) noon message from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.
The Urbi et Orbi, which also offers blessings and a pardon for sins, is delivered at Easter, Christmas and after the election of a new pope.
Pontiffs usually use the occasion to plead for world peace. -DPA