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Updated: December 25, 2010 12:12 IST

Pope leads midnight Christmas Mass, prays for peace

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Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Friday.
Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Friday.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Christmas midnight Mass on Friday and in a sombre reflection during his homily noted how the promise of peace brought by Jesus’ birth has yet to be fulfilled.

Thousands of people flocked to St. Peter’s Basilica for the ceremony, while many more followed the proceedings on giant video screens in St Peter’s Square, on a mild but wet winter’s night.

“This child (Jesus) has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might,” the pontiff said in his homily.

Part of the significance of Christmas night is “simply joy at God’s closeness” to mankind, he said.

“But this joy is also prayer: Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots. Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end.” He cited the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Fulfill the prophecy that ‘of peace there will be no end.” The homily was followed by a few moments of silent reflection.

Later, during Holy Communion, the pontiff joined other clerics in handing out wafers to the faithful.

The mass took place amid tightened security measures following last year’s intrusion by a mentally disturbed woman.

It began with Benedict, wearing gold—embroidered robes and his bishop’s mitre, walking into the Basilica in procession with other clerics. The pontiff stopped occasionally, briefly greeting well— wishers, many of them holding camera phones.

During the same procession in 2009, a Swiss—born woman, Susanna Maiolo, leapt over a barrier and lunged at the pontiff, knocking him down. Benedict was unhurt in the resulting fracas, but an elderly cardinal suffered a broken leg.

Maiolo had already tried to accost the pontiff during the 2008 Christmas Mass but was blocked by security guards.

As in 2009, Friday’s midnight Mass began at 10 pm (2100 GMT) instead of midnight — an earlier slot aimed to give the 83—year—old pontiff a few extra hours of sleep before his Christmas Day duties, the Vatican said.

Earlier, the Vatican unveiled in St Peter’s Square its Nativity scene, recreating the scene of Jesus’ birth — a custom revived in 1982.

The story narrates how Jesus’ mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph, unable to find lodging, sought shelter in a stable and used a manger, or livestock feeding trough, as a humble crib for the infant.

This year, the traditional Nativity figures are complemented by a set of nine statues created by Filipino sculptor Kublai Ponce—Millan.

These include musicians playing indigenous instruments and a family in a boat pulling a net, heavy with fish.

The statues are a gift from the Philippines government to mark next year’s 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the majority Catholic Asian nation and the Vatican.

The Nativity scene stands next to the Vatican’s Christmas tree — this year a 34—metre—high Norwegian spruce from Italy’s north—eastern Alpine region of Alto Adige.

Benedict has encouraged Catholics to display their own Nativity scenes and Christmas trees, both “spiritual” symbols representing Christ’s appearance on Earth, according to the German—born pontiff.

On Saturday, Benedict was scheduled to deliver his Christmas Day blessings and traditional Urbi et Orbi message “to the city and to the world.”

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