VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- On Friday, Christmas Eve, the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square will be opened, according to a tradition started by John Paul II in 1982.
The ceremony will begin at 5 p.m. and will include the participation of Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, the secretary of the governorate; and Bishop Giorgio Corbellini, president of the Central Labor Office of the Holy See.
Staged on a surface of more than 3,200 square feet, with a front of about 82 feet, the nativity scene is inspired by the Gospel and includes scenes from Palestine of the time of Jesus’ birth.
At the center is the humble environment of the divine birth: a cabin inserted in a natural grotto that houses the Child Jesus, Mary and Joseph, accompanied by the silent presence of the ox and the donkey.
To one side, a building with a wooden cupola shelters nine figures — men, women and children — intent on playing string, wind and percussion instruments in front of a net full of fish. A boat and baskets of fruit furnish the scene indicating the main activity of the small community: fishing and cultivation of the earth.
On the opposite end of the scene, a grotto with a wooden roof gives shelter to the first witnesses of the birth: the shepherds and wise men in the act of adoring the Child God.
The wooden statues were donated to the Holy Father by the Philippines through the embassy to the Holy See, for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two entities (April 8, 1951).
The placement of the statues near the manger highlights the values of the Filipino family, which in the traditional vision is assimilated at home, where the father is “the pillar” and the mother is “the light” that illumines and orients the members of the domestic nucleus in the course of life.
The creator of the statues is Filipino sculptor Kublai Ponce Millan of Cotabato City, who with his work called “Nativity” wished to express the Christmas atmosphere of his land and celebrate the gift of that day received with joy and gratitude by his people.
The oldest statues, displayed every year in the nativity scene of St. Peter’s Square, are nine and come from the Christmas composition prepared in 1842 by St. Vincent Pallotti in the Roman church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. They are cared for by the Vatican community of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, to whom has been entrusted the making of the clothes of different personages.
Every year, the religious work on dressing the statues from Dec. 22 to Dec. 24, and return to do their work on the night of Jan. 5, changing the costumes of the shepherds and transforming them into the wise men.
The inauguration of the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square will be followed at 6 p.m. by another ceremony: the lighting by Benedict XVI of the “light of peace” placed on the windowsill of his private study.
The Pope will visit the manger scene on the afternoon of Dec. 31, after the celebration of vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica.