Pope Francis explains the meaning of living mangers

Yesterday, Saturday, December 16, 2023, in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father Francis received in the audience the extras and operators of the living Nativity scene of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Below is the Pope’s greeting to those present during the audience:


Pope’s words

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning and welcome!

You have already come with the costumes for the living nativity scene this afternoon in Santa Maria Maggiore. Thank you so much! I thank Cardinal [S. Ryłko, archpriest of the basilica] and Monsignor Makrickas, who have involved so many of you in this beautiful initiative.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore preserves the relic of Jesus’ manger, so it has a very special connection with Bethlehem and the manger. In fact, it also houses the sculptural group of Arnolfo di Cambio, commissioned by Pope Nicholas IV, considered the first nativity scene in the history of art. That’s why I want to share with you just two thoughts, so that they accompany you throughout the day. Two thoughts.

First, I think of San Francisco. As we know, he invented the living nativity scene, in Greccio, exactly eight hundred years ago. But it is important to remember why he invented it, to understand its meaning, so as not to reduce it to a mere folklore fact. Francis wanted to represent the birth of Jesus in life to inspire, in the friars and the people, emotion and tenderness towards the mystery of God born of Mary in a stable and lying in a manger. He wanted to give substance to the representation: not a painting, not statues, but people of flesh and blood, to highlight the reality of the incarnation. So, the first thought that he leaves you is this: the purpose of the living nativity scene is to reawaken wonder in the heart, before the mystery of God who became a child.

The second thought is for our brothers and sisters in Bethlehem, Bethlehem today. And naturally this extends to all the inhabitants of the land where Jesus was born, lived, died and resurrected. We know the situation, caused by the war, a consequence of a conflict that has lasted for decades. Therefore, his actions must be lived in solidarity with these brothers and sisters who are suffering greatly. For them, it promises to be a Christmas of suffering, of mourning, without pilgrims, without celebrations. We don’t want to leave them alone. Let us be close to them with prayer, with concrete help and also with your living Bethlehem, which reminds everyone how the suffering of Bethlehem is an open wound for the Middle East and for the entire world. This Christmas let’s think, let’s think about the Holy Land.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope you live this day with faith and joy; May it be a testimony of the Gospel! I heartily bless all of you and your loved ones. And don’t forget to pray for me. Merry Christmas!