Thousands of children fill St. Peter’s Square for the traditional “bambinelli” blessing
VATICAN CITY — “When you pray before your Nativity scene with your parents, ask Baby Jesus to help us all love God and our neighbor,” Pope Francis told children on Sunday as he blessed the figurines of the Christ Child they will lay in their crèche this Christmas.
Thousands of children turned out in St. Peter’s Square for the traditional blessing, which takes place each year on Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church. The day takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete (“Rejoice”), the first word of the introit of the day’s Mass, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
“Rejoice in the the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:4-6).
In his greetings after the Angelus, Pope Francis said: “Today my first greeting is reserved for all the children and young people of Rome who have come for the traditional ‘bambinelli’ blessing, organized by parish oratories and Catholic schools.”
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity scene on Christmas Eve in the year 1223, inside a cave in Greccio, Italy. It is believed he was first inspired with this idea while on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, after visiting the humble stable in a Bethlehem cave that marks the historical place of Christ’s birth. It is thought that this event deepened his devotion to the Child Jesus who, though He was God, was born into the world in poverty, humility, and silence.
The saint would later tell a friend why he desired to create the first Nativity scene in his town:
“I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.”
Pope Francis made a surprise visit to Greccio earlier this year, to pray at the site of the world’s crèche ahead of the Feast of the Epiphany.
On Friday, as the Vatican illumined it’s 2016 Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, the pope reflected on the importance of keeping a crèche in one’s home. He said:
“Nativity scenes in churches, homes and in many public places are an invitation to make room in our lives and society for God … 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.”
At the Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis also asked children to remember him in their prayers to Baby Jesus this Christmas, “as I remember you,” he said.
He then concluded: “One thing I would like to say to the children and young people: We want to hear you sing! Arrivederci and have a nice lunch! Sing!”