Source: Vatican News/JNS
St Francis of Assisi created the first Nativity scene on Christmas Eve of the year 1223. Its is believed he was inspired by this idea after visiting the historical place of Christ's birth in a cave in Bethlehem, during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He set up an empty manger inside a cave in the town of Greccio, and included a live ox and donkey there in order to recreate how Christ came into the world in poverty and simplicity.
The small cave is now decorated with 14th century frescoes by the school of Giotto, depicting Mary breastfeeding the Christ Child and Saint Francis kneeling in adoration.
On Sunday Pope Francis made a brief visit to Greccio to sign his Apostolic Letter 'Admirabile signum' on meaning and importance of the Christmas crib.
Pope Francis then spoke to the faithful gathered in the Shrine. "How many thoughts crowd the mind in this holy place!" he said. But, he noted, the rocks where Saint Francis found inspiration for the first manger scene are an invitation to "rediscover simplicity."
"There is no need for many words here, because the scene before our eyes expresses the wisdom we need in order to grasp what is essential," he said.
The crib reminds us to find moments of silence and prayer in the midst of our hectic lives.
"Silence, to contemplate the beauty of the face of the Child Jesus, the Son of God born in the poverty of a stable," he said. "Prayer, to express our amazed "thank you" at this immense gift of love we have been given."
Pope Francis called the nativity scene a "simple and enchanting image" that manifests the great mystery of our faith: "God loves us to the point of sharing our humanity and our lives. He never leaves us alone."
Let us be like the shepherds of Bethlehem, said the Pope, and accept the invitation to "go to the cave, to see and recognise the sign that God has given us." This, he said, will fill our hearts with joy and allow us to take that joy wherever there is sadness.
In conclusion, Pope Francis said we should look to the Child Jesus and identify ourselves with Mary who, with her husband Joseph, placed her Son in a manger because there was no room in a house.
"May His smile that lights up the night, dispel indifference, and open hearts to the joy of those who feel loved by our Heavenly Father."
Read the full Apostolic Letter here:
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