Pope Francis’s Christmas Eve message likened the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to the migrations of millions of people today who are forced to leave homelands for a better life — or just for survival — and expressed hope no one will feel “there is no room for them on this Earth.”
The “simple story” of Jesus’s birth in a manger changed “our history forever. Everything that night became a source of hope,” Francis said at the late evening mass Sunday at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome.
Noting that Mary and Joseph arrived in a land “where there was no place for them,” Francis drew parallels to contemporary time.
“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” he said in his homily. “We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”
Francis has made concern for economic migrants, war refugees and others on society’s margins a central plank of his papacy.
He said God is present in “the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighbourhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door.” That perception of God should develop into “new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this Earth.”
“Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity,” Francis said.
Referring to Jesus as the Child of Bethlehem, the Pope said God “invites us to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors.”
The Pope expressed hope that people see Jesus in “all those who arrive in our cities, in our histories, in our lives.”
At the start of the service, Francis bent over to kiss a statue of the baby Jesus in the basilica.
At midday Monday, tradition calls for Francis to deliver the Christmas Day message urbi et orbi, which is Latin for “to the city and to the world,” from the central loggia of the basilica overlooking St. Peter’s Square.