Monday, December 24, 2007

Make Space for God

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas with a midnight mass on Tuesday, urging people to find time and space for God, the needy and the suffering.

Benedict, marking the third Christmas season of his reign, said a solemn mass for about 10,000 people inside St. Peter's Basilica on a chilly night. The ceremony was broadcast live to 42 countries.

Wearing gold and white vestments, the 80-year-old pontiff wove his sermon around today's significance of the birth of Jesus.

He said the fact that Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn in Bethlehem had modern parallels.

"In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him," he said.

"Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others -- for his neighbor, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others."

The spirit of Christmas, the Pope said, should make everyone recognize the darkness of a world where many people were closed into themselves because they did not want to receive God or his message.

"Do we have time for our neighbor who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum?

"Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?" he said.

In the run-up to Christmas, the Pope several times urged Catholics to rediscover its religious significance, lamenting that the holiday had been dominated by materialism.

On Monday the Pope lit a peace candle and placed it at the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square as the Vatican's life-size nativity scene was unveiled to the public below.

Later on Tuesday, the Pope will deliver his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and the world") blessing from the basilica's central balcony. He was also due to deliver Christmas greetings in more than 60 languages.

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