Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff Tuesday, delivering a message of forgiveness and acceptance in his homily, the traditional commentary on biblical scripture.
“Whoever hates his brother, writes the brother John, is in the darkness,” he said, “God’s grace has been revealed and has made salvation possible for the whole human race.”
Francis explained that the first to notice Jesus’ birth, according to biblical accounts, were the shepherds.
“They were the first because they were among the last, the outcasts … They kept vigilant,” he said.
Francis has reportedly contacted gay Catholics who have written to him to complain of crises of faith, and he has tried to allay their worries.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he famously told reporters on visit to Brazil.
Still, the Vatican maintains that it has not changed its official stance on homosexuality: that homosexual acts are sinful, not homosexual tendencies.
Francis has also drawn much acclaim for his advocacy on economic-justice issues. Before Christmas, the pontiff sent out 2,000 envelopes containing subway and telephone cards to people living in surrounding areas to ensure that they celebrate the holiday with their families, even from afar.
Francis, who turned 77 a week ago, walked briskly up the main aisle of the basilica, which was packed with faithful and tourists at the start of Mass, which began Tuesday 2½ hours before midnight. Keeping with the theme of humility that he has set for his papacy, Francis — not an aide — carried the statue of the newly born Jesus and kissed a knee of the figure.
The ceremony is the pope’s only public Mass for Christmas. On Wednesday, Christmas Day, Francis will deliver his Christmas message, meant for the world, from the basilica’s central balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square.
One nun at Tuesday night’s Mass prayed in Mandarin for people being persecuted for their religious beliefs, in what may be considered a sign to Beijing, amid news that China’s missing bishop, Thaddeus Ma — who it was deemed had challenged the Communist Party’s authority over Chinese Catholics in July of last year — had been “sent to political classes,” according to the BBC.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press