Pope Francis focused the attention of young people on two “signs” when he visited Greccio on Monday. The hill town nestled some two hours north of Rome is the site of St. Francis’ first nativity scene.
The Pope made an unexpected visit to the spot, surprising young people at the Shrine of Greccio, where in 1223, St. Francis began the tradition of recreating the first Christmas.
The Holy Father spoke of the star that led the Magi and the Angel that led the shepherds to the manger where the Child Jesus was lying.
Before a group of some 150 young people, taking part in a Meeting of the Libera Association, the Pontiff appeared with his usual simplicity. He greeted them – “Good afternoon,” he said. Then he explained the reason for his presence. Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, who was beside him, “made me understand that during these days of Christmas it was good to come to pray at Greccio.” So I have come to pray.” Then the Holy Father joked, eliciting rather embarrassed laughs from the young people, overcome by his presence. “But I don’t know with what fib he drew me here!”
Pope Francis then began his off-the-cuff reflection, concerning the Crib. ”There are so many signs, so many signals in life,” he said as reported in Frontiera’s home page. And when the Gospel speaks of Jesus’ birth, there are two signs that make me reflect. And I would like you also to reflect on this, he said.
The first image offered to those listening to him was that of the star. “The sky is full of stars, but there was a special one; a star that moved them to leave many things and start off on a path, which they knew not where it would go,” he explained referring to the Magi. Francis compared that star to the signs that strew our life and “which call us to do something more, something good, to undertake a path, to take a decision.” Therefore, “we must ask for the grace to discover ‘the star’ that God wants us to see today, so that that star leads us to Jesus,” he explained.
The road to Jesus was also followed by the shepherds, who met the Angel that pointed out to them the Child in the manger. This last image shows us how “God abased Himself, annihilated Himself to be like us, to walk before us.” It is the image of “littleness, of humility: God who goes against pride, sufficiency and arrogance.” In “this meekness of a Child,” Francis indicated the other sign to pick up, to then ask oneself: “Is my life a meek and humble life, which doesn’t ‘stink’ under the nose, which isn’t proud?”
The example to which one must turn, therefore, is that of the Magi, who “were shrewd” in “letting themselves be guided by the star.” The Pope then explained that “all the splendor of Herod’s palace” did not deceive them. Hence, the Holy Father’s hope for the young people at Greccio was: “that your life be accompanied always by these two signs, which are a gift of God. That you not lack the star, and that you not lack the humility to discover Jesus in the little ones, in the poor, in the humble, in those that are discarded by society and even divested of their life.”
Before taking his leave, and with the same simplicity with which he appeared, the Holy Father said: I wanted to say this to you.”
The Bishop of Rome’s visit even caught the Franciscans who live in the Shrine by surprise. “We weren’t prepared for the Pontiff’s arrival. At that moment, I didn’t even have my habit, and I ran to the Refectory to put it on. Then I opened the gate to the Pope. The most beautiful scene was Francis’ kiss of the altar where we celebrate the Eucharist every morning. It was a moving gesture,” revealed to Tv2000 Father Alfredo Silvestri, Guardian of the Shrine of Greccio.
Bishop Pompili added some particulars about the Pontiff’s visit to Greccio. Speaking to the microphones of Tv2000, he said: the Pope “remained curious about this very peripheral place, and he lived very intensely the moment of his physical meeting with this ancient space, pausing for a few moments in silence before the Medieval fresco that portrays Saint Francis next to the fresco of Our Lady who is nursing the Child Jesus. The stayed a long time in silence with his gaze fixed on this fresco.”
In connection with the meeting with young people, which preceded the moment of prayer before the Crib, the bishop said that it was “a very beautiful intense moment and that it “all happened in a very family-like dimension.” A moment that those young people, as well as the local Franciscan Community, will never forget.