Pope Francis ushered in Christmas on Wednesday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics with a message of unconditional love, saying “God continues to love us all, even the worst of us”. “You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you,” the pontiff told crowds gathered at the Vatican for his Christmas Eve midnight mass.
The Argentinian also emphasised “unconditional” love, in a year that has seen the Pope move to combat silence surrounding paedophilia in the Roman Catholic church. A few hundred worshippers gathered in the church on the site of Jesus’s birth for midnight mass, attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Hundreds more gathered outside, watching on screens in the crisp air. But fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in previous years, as Israel had granted permits to just around 300 of the some 900 people who applied, said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to Church leaders in the Holy Land.
At midnight bells rang out throughout the town, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, led hymns and said prayers. “At Christmas all the world looks to us, to Bethlehem,” he said. “Special greetings to our brothers and sisters in Gaza, with whom I celebrated Christmas two days ago,” he added. Pizzaballa, who had to cross Israel’s separation barrier to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, said after his arrival that it was a difficult time but there was reason for hope.
“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families,” he said. “On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a lot of commitment… for the future. Christmas is for us to celebrate the hope.”—AFP