Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass since becoming pontiff St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The pontiff once again preached the importance of acceptance and humility, qualities he has demonstrated continually in his first nine months as head of the Catholic Church.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Pope Francis began, quoting from Isaiah, a book of the Bible that includes prophesies foretelling the birth of Jesus.
Pope Francis has sought to change the image of the Catholic Church as a judgmental, lavish, inflexible institution since his election in March.
On Monday, he made a Christmas visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict and asked him to pray for him.
In Christmas Eve’s Mass, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of reaching out to the downtrodden, using the shepherds who were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth as an example.
“They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast,” he said.
“We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable,” he said in thanks to God and also a clear indication of the humility he encourages his flock to emulate.
In his address to Vatican administrators on Saturday, Pope Francis said holiness was a practice of “deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers,” as he urged the cardinals, bishops and priests to avoid gossip.
Before the Mass, Pope Francis further inspired meekness, when he personally placed a baby Jesus doll in a replica of a manger, a custom usually performed by an aid.
The 2 1/2-hour Mass was the first of many services Pope Francis will lead during the holidays. On Christmas Day, he will deliver a “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the basilica’s balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis will also hold mass on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and another on January 6, for the feast of the Epiphany or “Three Kings’ Day”, celebrating the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
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