Pope Issues Christmas Call to Protect Children
By Philip Pullella
Reuters [Vatican City]
December 25, 2006
Vatican City (Reuters) - Pope Benedict ushered in Christmas at midnight mass on Monday, saying the image of the baby Jesus born in a manger should remind everyone of the plight of poor, abused and neglected children the world over.
The 79-year-old Benedict, marking the second Christmas season of his pontificate, celebrated the mass for more than 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Thousands of others watched on large screens outside on a clear, starry night and millions more tuned in via television or radio round the world.
"The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children, particularly those who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn," the Pope said in his homily, making a reference to abortion.
"Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us. It is the God who has become small who appeals to us."
Just as the shepherds of Bethlehem were called by an angel to seek the child lying in the manger, modern man was called to listen to the message of the baby Jesus, the Pope said.
"Let us pray this night that the brightness of God's love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life," he said.
The Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, is still reeling from a 2002 child sexual abuse scandal involving priests. This month a papal preacher suggested the Pope should call a day of penitence to seek forgiveness from God.
At the start of the solemn mass, a cantor sang the Kalenda, an ancient text that presents Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of all history.
The Pope, wearing resplendent gold and white vestments, again spoke out against the materialism that he has said several times has been allowed to dominate Christmas.
"During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord's words: 'When you give a dinner or a banquet do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you'," he said.
"This also means when you give gifts for Christmas do not give only to those who will give to you in return but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back."
On Monday at 1100 GMT the Pope will deliver his traditional, twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message and blessing to crowds in St. Peter's Square.
At his traditional Sunday address from the window of his apartments, he urged the world not to shut Christ out of Christmas and to banish prejudices hindering peace.
"May his birth not find us busy celebrating Christmas forgetting that he (Jesus) is the very person at the centre of the feast," he told thousands of pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square.
He urged that the many people who would spend Christmas "in solitude, in sickness and in suffering" should be remembered.
The real spirit of Christmas was a commitment to "overcome prejudices, break down barriers and eliminate situations that pitted individuals and people against each other in order to build a world of justice and peace together", the Pope said.
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