THE Pope has urged people to create nativity scenes in workplaces, homes, schools, prisons, and town squares as a “simple yet authentic means of portraying the beauty of our faith”.
He dedicated his latest Apostolic Letter, Admirabile signum — which translates as “enchanting scene” — to explaining the significance of the traditional Christmas crib scene, urging people to revive the tradition.
His letter was signed off as he visited the Italian village of Greccio, where St Francis of Assisi is believed to have created the first crib scene in 1223.
St Francis is said to have stopped in Greccio 15 days before Christmas and, inspired by scenery that reminded him of the Holy Land, enlisted the help of a villager to recreate the Christmas scene. No statues were used; instead the scene was acted by villagers.
All those who saw it experienced a “new and indescribable joy”, and the building of the crib was a “great work of evangelisation”, the Pope wrote.
His Apostolic Letter explains the significance of each element of the traditional Christmas crib scene, even the starry night, which he describes as symbolising God’s caring for us through the dark times of life. The ruined buildings which traditionally appear in the background are a “visible sign of fallen humanity, of everything that inevitably falls into ruin, decays, and disappoints”, he said.
The symbolism of many of the figures around the crib is important, including the “poor and lowly . . . which teaches that we cannot let ourselves be fooled by wealth and fleeting promises of happiness”.
Some of the other figures often added to the scene, those with no apparent connection to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s birth, still speak to the “everyday holiness” of life, the letter said.
Making the Christmas crib is part of the “previous but demanding process of passing on the faith” to children and grandchildren.
“Standing before the Christmas crèche, we are reminded of the time when we were children, eagerly waiting to set it up. These memories make us all the more conscious of the precious gift received from those who passed on the faith to us. At the same time, they remind us of our duty to share this same experience with our children and our grandchildren. It does not matter how the nativity scene is arranged: it can always be the same or it can change from year to year. What matters is that it speaks to our lives. Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas crèche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman, and child, regardless of their condition.
“It is my hope that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.”