Pope Francis urges faithful to have open heart

epa04000678 Pope Francis kisses a baby Jesus statue as he leads the midndight Christmas Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican late 24 December 2013. EPA/ETTORE FERRARI

ETTORE FERRARI/EPA

Pope Francis carried the statue of baby Jesus himself during Christmas Eve Mass, a task usually taken by his aides.

Riding a worldwide wave of goodwill and popularity to his first Christmas Eve Mass as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to emulate Jesus to avoid the darkness of the world.

The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City tolled as the former nightclub bouncer from Buenos Aires walked up the main aisle for the ceremony.

Pope Francis urged his faithful to emulate Jesus and 'walk in the light.'

TONY GENTILE/REUTERS

Pope Francis urged his faithful to emulate Jesus and ‘walk in the light.’

RELATED: POPE’S CHRISTMAS EVE HOMILY TEXT RELEASED

Francis, who turned 77 last week and has become a global religious icon in little more than nine whirlwind months as Pontiff, called Jesus “the light who brightens the darkness.”

Pope Francis told his faithful 'if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.'

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Pope Francis told his faithful ‘if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.’

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” the pontiff declared to the worshippers huddled in the ornate basilica for the Catholic Church’s official Christmas Eve Mass, which began roughly two-and-a-half hours before midnight local time. Speaking in Italian and quoting liberally from the New Testament, Francis preached a need to be joyful and to embrace love and spirituality on the lifelong path to enlightenment.

RELATED: POPE FRANCIS MEETS BENEDICT TO EXCHANGE CHRISTMAS GREETINGS

Pope Francis has soared to 88% approval rating in his first months as pontiff.

TONY GENTILE/REUTERS

Pope Francis has soared to 88% approval rating in his first months as pontiff.

“If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light,” Francis said. “But if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.”

Since becoming Pontiff, Francis has been lauded for moving aggressively to accelerate the Catholic Church’s transition into the modern age. He has been nothing if not humble, and sought to reform the Vatican’s hierarchy in Jesus’ image as reflected through his own example. He has gone out of his way to avoid convention and to mix with the masses. He has encouraged the church’s 1.2 billion members to develop more inclusive attitudes toward issues such as gay rights.

Since taking over leadership of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has won the hearts of many with his down-to-earth nature.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Since taking over leadership of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has won the hearts of many with his down-to-earth nature.

RELATED: POPE ADMONISHES VATICAN STAFF FOR GOSSIPING

And he has placed paramount importance on the church’s mission to provide ministry to those in the greatest need, especially the poor and the vulnerable.

Pope Francis kisses the book of the gospels as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Pope Francis kisses the book of the gospels as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

At one point during the homily he spoke of Jesus in a way that echoed his message to men of the cloth: “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.”

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Francis’ transformational approach to the Papacy has earned him a divine approval rating of 88% from American Catholics, according to a CNN poll released on Christmas Eve.

Reinforcing his emphasis on humility, Francis at the onset of the service carried a statue of the newborn Jesus, rather than delegate that task to an aide. He kissed the knee of the figure of baby Jesus. And he reminded the flock that the first people to learn of Jesus’ birth on Christmas morning were shepherds, who in antiquity were considered “among the last, the outcast.

“He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it,” Pope Francis said of Jesus. “He is the meaning of life and history who has pitched his tent in our midst.”

More than 1,500 miles away from Vatican City, a hopeful mood pervaded the town of Bethlehem, the Biblical birthplace of Jesus.

Thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world descended on the West Bank hamlet for Christmas Eve celebrations. The crowds marked the highest turnout in years, and prompted local leaders to wonder whether 2014 will be the year that peace finally comes to the Mideast. With News Wire Services


Nation / World – NY Daily News

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