Archbishop Rino Fisichella at the inauguration of ‘100 Nativity Scenes at the Vatican’ Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Among the novelties of this year’s “100 Nativity Scenes at the Vatican” exhibit is the inclusion of a miniature Pope Francis honouring the Christ Child.
The small statue of the pontiff is part of a piece that recreates the scene of 27 March 2020, when Pope Francis stood in a rainy and empty St. Peter’s Square to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to Pope Francis and the Child Jesus in a manger, the model depicts the front of St. Peter’s Basilica and the miraculous crucifix of the Church of San Marcello al Corso.
The annual nativity scene display began in 1976. Before 2018, the nativities were exhibited in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo. This is the third year that the display is under the leadership of the Vatican.
But this year, for safety reasons, the nativities were moved from a building near the Vatican to the open air, under a part of Bernini’s famous colonnade, which embraces St. Peter’s Square. Wooden displays hold the nativities and protect them from the elements.
Space limitations mean the exhibit is slightly smaller this year. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who leads the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, told CNA that there were around 70 nativities set up for viewing.
Some of the nativity scenes come from other countries. In addition to traditional Italian manger scenes, there are those that have been handmade with more unusual materials, such as paper, straw, stones, and even type from a typewriter.
Most of the scenes included have been displayed also in previous years, but there are a few new ones for 2020. For example, Vatican firemen put together a nativity scene that sits inside an old fire extinguisher.
Some of the nativities were made by schoolchildren.
The display also includes poinsettia plants and large signs with quotations from Pope Francis about the significance of the nativity.
The new location of the exhibit, under the colonnade, is where some homeless people spend the day. At night, many more sleep around the outside edge of the colonnade in sleeping bags or tents if they have them — or on top of cardboard to protect them from the cold stone.
“Everyone will be able to stop and admire the beauty of many nativity scenes from different parts of the world and understand how much love and imagination have been put into the creation of the manger scene,” a press release from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization said.
“If we are experiencing a feeling of sadness or loneliness, let us approach the crib and look at the Baby Jesus who wants to be welcomed. Then we too stretch out our arms, hold him and we will feel less alone,” Fisichella told Vatican News.
The New Evangelization office, which organizes the exhibit each year, said that “Christmas is the light that comes into the world to dispel the darkness of evil.”
“These Christmas holidays, it would make no sense to look away as if the dramatic moment that the whole world is experiencing did not exist. Faith requires us to look at reality and give meaning to what happens in personal history and in humanity,” it said.
The display was opened to visitors 13 December and will close after 10 January.
Photographs of nativity scenes by Hannah Brockhaus/CNA