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Christmas at the Vatican has been saved

Vatican's Christmas Tree and Nativity Scene

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 11/16/22

A dispute over the Christmas tree destined to decorate St. Peter’s Square has been resolved, saving the historic tree and the decorations.

St. Peter’s Square was almost left without a Christmas tree this year, after a dispute erupted over whether the chosen 200-year-old silver fir tree could be cut down. Luckily, the conflict was resolved and the historic 54 meter (177 foot) tree will live on and another one will still adorn St. Peter’s Square. 

The story begins in 2020 when the municipality of Rosello (in the central region of Abruzzo), offered to give the Vatican a tree in 2022 for its annual Christmas decorations in St. Peter’s Square. The tree would come from a nearby nature reserve, which is home to some of the best preserved silver fir trees in the country.

Around the same time a local lawyer and nature photographer, Dario Rapino, realized that the silver fir trees in question were actually located in Monte Castel Barone, in the neighboring region of Molise. Additionally, as a protected plant species, they would require special authorizations to be cut down. He thus began his battle to stop what he described to local media as an “albericidio” (a mix of the words for “tree” and “homicide” in Italian). 

Rapino even wrote a letter to Pope Francis in September 2020, evoking his encyclical on care for the environment, Laudato Si’. The nature photographer asked the Pope “to intervene so as to not allow a centuries-old tree to be taken away from its land,” especially because of “all the functions it performs in the ecosystem.” 

Rapino did not receive an answer and on October 28, 2022, the Holy See published a press release saying this year’s Christmas tree would come in fact from Rosello. On the following November 7, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also issued a statement calling for the municipality not to cut down the tree. 

The debate continued at the local level until, on November 14, as workers were preparing to fell the tree that had been selected, forest rangers interrupted the operation saying the necessary paperwork was missing.

According to Reuters, the same day the forest officials decided to offer the municipality of Rosello a specimen of their property in another part of Abruzzo, so that it could be offered to the Vatican. Rapino told local media that the new tree would come from a tree farm in the municipality of Palena.  

“It will be a happy Christmas after all,” Colonel Gianluca Grossi of the area’s forest police told Reuters.

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