The pope’s message celebrating Christmas came as the Catholic Church has been rocked by scandals and opposition. While not specifically mentioning recent church troubles, he alluded to them.
Pope Francis spread the word of unconditional love in his Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican late on Tuesday.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics led the service in St. Peter’s Basilica for thousands of people as well as those watching on large screens outside.
“Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us all, even the worst of us,” Francis said in his sermon.
The pontiff told the crowds gathered at the Vatican: “You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you. How often do we think that God is good if we are good and punishes us if we are bad. Yet that is not how he is.”
Francis last week took further measures to deal with some of the Vatican’s troubles by abolishing the “pontifical secret,” the highest level of confidentiality in the Catholic Church, which will no longer apply in clergy sex abuse cases. The reform removes a major hurdle that prevented police from investigating crimes among the clergy. The Vatican has also been plagued with financial concerns.
The 266th Pope continued his sermon by saying: “Let us contemplate the child and let ourselves be caught up in his tender love. Then we have no further excuse for not letting ourselves be loved by him.”
With a choir singing “The First Noel,” Francis headed down the center aisle of the basilica and unveiled a statue of the newborn Jesus lying in a nativity scene at the foot of the altar.
“Whatever goes wrong in our lives,” he continued. “Whatever doesn’t work in the church, whatever problems there are in the world, will no longer serve as an excuse.”
The 83-year-old added: “It will become secondary, for faced with Jesus’ extravagant love, a love of utter meekness and closeness, we have no excuse.”
On Christmas Day, Francis will give his biannual “Urbi et Orbi” speech from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to throngs of believers in the square below.
Unlike the Christmas Eve sermon, his message the following day is typically more about the significance of Christmas amid the conflicts of contemporary society.
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