Pope Francis lauded Jesus’ humble beginning as a poor and vulnerable baby as he celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff Tuesday in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich, and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable,” Francis said of Jesus as he delivered his homily in the basilica, packed with faithful.
Francis has dedicated much of his 9-month-old papacy to drawing attention to the plight of the poor, of children, and other vulnerable members of society.
He noted that the first to receive news of Jesus’ birth were shepherds, who in society were considered ‘“among the last, the outcast.”
The bells of St. Peter’s rang as Francis, who turned 77 a week ago, walked briskly up the main aisle of the basilica for the ceremony, which began Tuesday 21/2 hours before midnight. Keeping with the theme of humility he has set for his new papacy, Francis carried the statue instead of an aide, and kissed a knee of the figure of the newly born Jesus.
The occasional wail of babies in the basilica contrasted at times with the sweet voices of the choir.
The Argentine-born pope has also encouraged his flock to be a joyful church, and he called Jesus’ “the light who brightens the darkness.”
In the world’s history and our own personal history, Francis said, “there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows.” He added “if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.”
Francis has applied this same vision to the heart of the Vatican’s own working, saying in past remarks there is no place for person ambition in the clerical hierarchy. Rather, he has insisted, the Catholic church must be one of service to those in need.
Earlier, in the Holy Land, thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations, bringing warm holiday cheer to the biblical birthplace of Jesus on a cool, clear night.
More than 500,000 homes and businesses were still without power Tuesday in parts of central and northeastern U.S. and into Canada after a weekend ice and snow storm rolled across the region. At least 14 people have been killed in the storm.
The U.S. National Weather Service said more snow was expected to move into the Northern High Plains and Central Rockies on Tuesday before rolling into the Great Lakes and Midwest by this morning.
Some U.S. states kept emergency shelters open for people without power.
The number of customers in Maine without power spiked to more than 100,000 on Tuesday, even as Central Maine Power Co. sent more than 1,000 workers to help restore power throughout the state.
That was the case, too, in Michigan, where Jackson-based Consumers Energy — the state’s largest utility — said it hadn’t had this many outages during any Christmas week since its founding 126 years ago. Close to 17 percent of its 1.8 million electric customers lost power during the storm that hit late Saturday; roughly 157,000 remained without it Tuesday.