Tenderness and hope: Pope Francis reflects on the meaning of Christmas

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On March 13, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, a Roman Catholic cardinal known for his work among the poor, stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and greeted the world for the first time as Pope Francis. Since that day, he has made headlines, touched off debates and demonstrated a new brand of leadership — one that rejects the comforts and trappings of power in favor of a life of humility and service to the least fortunate.

This month Pope Francis gave an interview to Andrea Tornielli, a journalist with VaticanInsider.com, a news website of the daily newspaper La Stampa. Here are excerpts from that interview of the pope’s reflections on Christmas.

Merry Christmas from the Post-Gazette.

Christmas is God’s meeting with his people. It is also a consolation, a mystery of consolation. Many times after the midnight Mass I have spent an hour or so alone in the chapel before celebrating the dawn Mass. I experienced a profound feeling of consolation and peace. I remember one night of prayer after a Mass in the Astalli residence for refugees in Rome; it was Christmas 1974, I think. For me Christmas has always been about this; contemplating the visit of God to his people. ...

“[Christmas] speaks of tenderness and hope. When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: Have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: Don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold church that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: Go forward, I am a father who caresses you.

“I become fearful when Christians lose hope and the ability to embrace and extend a loving caress to others. Maybe this is why, looking toward the future, I often speak about children and the elderly, about the most defenseless that is. Throughout my life as a priest, going to the parish, I have always sought to transmit this tenderness, particularly to children and the elderly. It does me good and it makes me think of the tenderness God has towards us. ...

“Back in 2000, in Bethlehem, John Paul II said God became a child who was entirely dependent on the care of a father and mother. This is why Christmas gives us so much joy. We don’t feel alone any more; God has come down to be with us. Jesus became one of us and suffered the worst death for us, that of a criminal on the cross. ...

“God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it. All of us from the holiest of saints to the greatest of sinners; from the purest to the most corrupt among us. Even a corrupt person has this ability: Poor him, it’s probably a bit rusty but he has it.

“Christmas in this time of conflicts is a call from God who gives us this gift. Do we want to receive him or do we prefer other gifts? In a world afflicted by war, this Christmas makes me think of God’s patience. The Bible clearly shows that God’s main virtue is that he is love. He waits for us; he never tires of waiting for us. He gives us the gift and then waits for us. This happens in the life of each and every one of us. There are those who ignore him. But God is patient and the peace and serenity of Christmas Eve is a reflection of God’s patience toward us.”

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