VATICAN CITY — The Vatican nativity scene has a unique addition this year: a cross from the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy.
The Norcia Basilica was one of dozens of churches destroyed in the earthquakes that hit central Italy in August and October of this year. Yet it has a unique significance, as it was built over the birthplace of of St. Benedict, Father of Western monasticism and one of the most influential figures in the history of Western civilization.
The cross, which once stood atop the Basilica, was placed with some rubble next to the life-sized nativity scene that was unveiled on Friday evening in St. Peter’s Square.
The Vatican has said that offerings left beside the manger scene will go toward the rebuilding of the Norcia Basilica, which was destroyed by a 6.9 magnitude quake on October 30.
“It reminds me of Bethlehem.”
Just 8 days before the Norcia basilica was destroyed, Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, had visited the monks in Norcia and blessed their temporary living quarters at San Benedetto in Monte [on the mountain], the make-shift monastery overlooking Norcia where the monks relocated after the first earthquake hit in August.
“It reminds me of Bethlehem,” Cardinal Sarah told them.
According to the monks, after sprinkling the kitchen, scriptorium, beds and chapel, he declared gently but powerfully: “I am certain that the future of the Church is in the monasteries… because where prayer is, there is the future.”
Children decorate Vatican Christmas tree
This year, the Vatican Christmas tree is an 80-foot tall fir that was brought from the Trentino region in northern Italy.
The ornaments that adorning the tree are ceramic, and have been made by children who are hospitalized and receiving treatment in pediatric oncology.
The Nativity scene was a gift from the Archdiocese and Government of Malta. Designed by local artist Manwel Grech, it includes a traditional Maltese boat, the “luzzu,” which according to the artists, represents not only Maltese tradition but also the plight of the refugees who cross the Mediterranean fleeing from war and poverty.
Before the lighting ceremony, Pope Francis met with delegations from Malta and Trentino to thank them for their contribution. He said: “The Nativity scene and Christmas tree represent a message of hope and love, and help to create a Christmas atmosphere conducive to living, with faith, the mystery of the Birth of the Redeemer, who came to earth with simplicity and meekness,” he said.
“Let us be drawn, with a child-like spirit, to the nativity scene, for there we come to understand God’s goodness and contemplate his mercy, which became flesh in order to make our gaze more tender.”
The Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene will remain illumined until Sunday, January 8.