VATICAN CITY – At the fifth Midnight Mass of his pontificate, Pope Francis highlighted the Biblical story of Joseph and Mary, comparing their flight to escape King Herod’s decree to kill all first-born children in the land, to the millions of people forced to leave their native lands in modern times.
The pontiff said that the parents of Jesus found no place to stay in Bethlehem except for a lowly manger and noted that Christian faith demands that foreigners be welcomed.
Amid heavy security at the solemn Mass at which Catholics commemorate the birth of Jesus, which this year was not celebrated at midnight but rather began at 9:30 pm, Francis delivered his remarks to about 10,000 people inside St. Peter’s Basilica, while thousands of others followed the service outside.
The shepherds who first welcomed the Baby Jesus were “forced to live on the edges of society” and were considered undesirable foreigners, Francis said, adding “Everything about them generated mistrust. They were men and women to be kept at a distance, to be feared.”
“Many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary. We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away, but driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones,” the pontiff said.
The 81-year-old Argentine pope – born Jorge Bergoglio – has consistently defended the situation of migrants, and in his homily at the Mass he called for a “new social imagination ... in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this earth.”
Francis told the assembled faithful that “Our document of citizenship” comes from God and thus respect for migrants is – and must be – an integral part of Christianity.
“This is the joy that we tonight are called to share, to celebrate and to proclaim. The joy with which God, in his infinite mercy, has embraced us pagans, sinners and foreigners, and demands that we do the same,” the pontiff said, going on to call people traffickers the “Herods of today,” and declaring that they have blood on their hands.
Pope Francis is scheduled to deliver his traditional Christmas Day blessing and “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and to the world) message from St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 25.