The Vatican’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 3, 2022. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Vatican. A large hand-carved wooden nativity scene was unveiled in St. Peter Square on Saturday night at the Vatican’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga presided over the ceremony yesterday. Due to heavy rain and thunderstorms, the celebration took place inside Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall with a video live-stream from St. Peter’s Square of the Christmas tree lighting.
The Christmas tree is a nearly 100-foot-tall white fir from Rosello, a mountain village with around 182 inhabitants in the central Italian region of Abruzzo.
The tree was adorned with ornaments made by children at a psychiatric rehabilitation centre in Italy. Other decorations for the tree were crafted by residents at a nursing home and schoolchildren from Abruzzo.
The outdoor nativity scene is made of life-sized figures hand-carved out of alpine cedar trees from Italy’s northeasternmost region, Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The scene includes a wooden grotto with an ox, donkey, angel, Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. The wooden figures will also have tradesmen and tradeswomen typical of the area where the nativity was made, a shepherdess, and a family and children.
The Vatican has placed a nativity scene in front of St. Peter’s Basilica for the Christmas season since the 1980s. For about a decade, the Vatican has asked different countries or Italian regions to lend the nativity to be displayed. In 2021, the scene came from Peru.
This year the Vatican is also displaying an indoor nativity scene donated by the government of Guatemala inside the Paul VI Hall, where Pope Francis receives many audiences in December.
The Holy Family and three angels were handmade by Guatemalan artisans in the local tradition using large golden crowns for the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
Pope Francis spent time in silent prayer in front of the nativity scene set up in Paul VI Hall on Saturday morning ahead of the ceremony.
In an audience with delegations from the communities that donated the nativity scenes and the Christmas tree, the pope said that the Christmas tree with its lights is a reminder of Jesus who “comes to illuminate our darkness, our existence often shrouded in the shadow of sin, fear, pain.”
“Yes, God loves us so much that he shares our humanity and our lives. He never leaves us alone; He is by our side in every circumstance, in joy as in sorrow. Even in the worst of times, He is there, because He is the Emmanuel, the God with us, the light that illuminates the darkness and the tender presence that accompanies us on our journey,” Pope Francis said.