Pope Defends Nativity Scene as a Sign of Faith and Culture

In Angelus Address on Gaudete Sunday

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Christmas crib is a sign of faith and culture, says John Paul II.

“Small or large, simple or elaborate, the crib constitutes a familiar and particularly expressive representation of Christmas,” the Pope said. “It is an element of our culture and art, but above all a sign of faith in God, who came to Bethlehem ‘to dwell among us.'”

The Holy Father made his comment today from the window of study, as he greeted the crowds below in St. Peter’s Square. He led the crowd in praying the midday Angelus.

Numerous Roman children were on hand, holding images of the Baby Jesus for the Pope’s blessing. The children will place the images in Nativity scenes in their homes and parishes.

“As every year, in a short while I will bless the images of the Baby Jesus, which in the Holy Night will be placed in the cribs, where St. Joseph and the Virgin already are, silent witnesses of a sublime mystery,” the Pope told the crowd.

“With their look of love, they invite us to watch and pray to welcome the divine Savior, who comes to bring the joy of Christmas to the world,” John Paul II said.

Today, the Church celebrated the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, so called from the first word of the entrance antiphon at Mass (“Gaudete,” Latin for “Rejoice”).

“Let us ask the awaiting Virgin that all Christians and all men of good will may have a lively desire to encounter the Lord, now approaching,” the Holy Father exhorted.

His observation about Nativity scenes as a sign of faith and culture came at a time when some countries are debating whether to remove the crib from public places.

Recently, several teachers in northern Italy announced their decision not to set up Nativity scenes in their schools this year, ostensibly out of respect for religious pluralism and to avoid offending non-Christians.

For the same reason, one school replaced the name “Jesus” (“Gesù”) in a Christmas carol with the word “virtue” (“virtù”), two words that rhyme in Italian.

In London, a debate over the trivialization of Christmas symbols was unleashed when the Madame Tussauds wax museum exhibited St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary with the features of soccer player David Beckham and his wife, Victoria. Over them hovers a likeness of Australian singer Kylie Minogue.

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