Pope asks Christians to highlight religious meaning of Christmas


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI asked Christians to highlight the real meaning, the religious meaning, of Christmas as they celebrate the holidays.

“Celebrate a truly Christian Christmas,” he said, one marked by “the joy of knowing that God is close and wants to walk with us on our journey through life.”

“Let us make sure that even in today’s society our Christmas greetings do not lose their profound religious meaning and the celebration is not absorbed by exterior aspects,” the pope said Dec. 21.

Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., and U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, visit the Nativity scene prior to Pope Benedict XVI's general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 21.

With about 5,000 pilgrims and visitors gathered for his weekly general audience Dec. 21, the pope said he knows people today sometimes find it hard to begin a relationship with God, who they cannot see, and to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, an event that occurred 2,000 years ago.

Yet the Christmas liturgy proclaims, “Today a savior is born for us,” he said.

The liturgy’s use of “today,” he said, means that “today, right now, God offers us — me and each one of you — the possibility of knowing him and welcoming him as the shepherds of Bethlehem did. He is born into our lives, renews them and transforms them with his grace and his presence.”

Christmas and Easter are closely connected in the life of faith, he said. Christmas celebrates the fact that God entered into history to bring humanity back to God, while his death and resurrection celebrate the fulfillment of his mission to vanquish death and sin.

“On Christmas, we encounter the tenderness and love of God who bends down over our limits, our weaknesses, our sins, and lowers himself down to us,” the pope said. Christmas is “a prelude to his lowering himself at his passion, the culmination of the story of love between God and human beings, which passes through the manger at Bethlehem and the tomb in Jerusalem.”

Among those at the audience were U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and his classmates who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their ordinations to the priesthood Dec. 20, 1961, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Before the audience, Cardinal Levada and Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., the cardinal’s classmate, visited the Nativity scene in the audience hall and greeted members of a mariachi band from the University of Queretaro, Mexico.