VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The annual unveiling of the Vatican’s Christmas tree and Nativity scene brought some much-needed warmth to people’s hearts as winter approached.
Hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 7 applauded as white curtains unfurled, revealing a 52-foot wide artistic representation of Jesus’ birth made entirely of sand and dubbed the “Sand Nativity.”
(See a related video.)
The bas-relief sculpture, which weighed over 700 tons, was made with sand from Jesolo, an Italian seaside resort town roughly 40 miles north of Venice.
Shortly after, as the sun set behind St. Peter’s Basilica, the sounds of “Silent Night” filled the square before the lights of the Vatican’s towering Christmas tree were lit.
The 42-foot-tall red spruce tree, donated by the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone in the northern Italian region of Veneto, was unveiled at the Vatican’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
Among those present at the annual Christmas tree lighting were Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, patriarch of Venice; and Bishop Giuseppe Pellegrini of Concordia-Pordenone.
The “Sand Nativity” scene and tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jan. 13.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met with delegations from the northern Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, responsible respectively for the 2018 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene.
Thanking the delegations for their gifts, the pope said the Nativity scene and Christmas tree are visible signs that “help us to contemplate the mystery of God, who was made man in order to be close to us.”
The bright lights emanating from the Christmas tree, he explained, “remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives out the darkness of enmity and makes room for forgiveness.”
The soaring height of the Christmas tree, he added, also symbolizes “God who — through the birth of his son, Jesus — came down to man to raise him to himself and elevate him from the fog of selfishness and sin.”
Pope Francis also reflected on the unique composition of the Nativity scene. Sand, he said, is a poor material that “recalls the simplicity, the littleness and frailty with which God show himself through the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem.”
“The child Jesus, Son of God and our Savior, whom we lay in the manger, is holy in poverty, littleness, simplicity and humility,” the pope said. “By contemplating the God-child who emanates light in the humility of the manger, we, too, can become witnesses of humility, tenderness and goodness.”
Kicking off preparations to celebrate the birth of Christ was special exhibition in the morning of over 100 different Nativity scenes at the Vatican. The event, now in its 43rd edition, was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
Dubbed “100 Cribs at the Vatican,” the Dec. 7-Jan. 13 exhibition featured a wide variety of artistic representations depicting Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
In a statement promoting the event, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the pontifical council, said the exhibition of different Nativity scenes — a tradition credited to St. Francis of Assisi — was “a strong instrument of evangelization.”
“So many people stop every Christmas before the mystery of God made man, represented with figurines — which in many cases are authentic masterpieces of art — to pray, to reflect and to discover the love of God who became a child for us.”
In a time of crisis CatholicPhilly.com keeps the information flowing
During the current coronavirus crisis, you can help CatholicPhilly.com deliver the kind of news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live ― every day.
Budgets are tight at this time, and CatholicPhilly's is no different than those of most families. We make sure your donation in any amount will go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103