Pope Francis warned in a solemn Christmas Eve Mass that the level of greed and hunger for power was such that some wanted to “consume even their neighbours”, in an apparent reference to the war in Ukraine.
Francis, celebrating the 10th Christmas of his pontificate, presided over a capacity crowd of about 7,000 in St. Peter’s Basilica after several years of restricted attendance because of Covid.
About 4,000 other people participated outside in St. Peter’s Square on a relatively warm night.
As was the case for the past several months, a knee ailment prevented Francis from standing for long periods, delegating a cardinal to be the main celebrant at the altar of the largest church in Christendom.
Sitting to the side of the altar for most of the Mass, he spoke of greed and consumption on various levels, asking people to look beyond the consumerism that has “packaged” the feast, rediscover its meaning, and remember those suffering from war and poverty.
“Men and women in our world, in their hunger for wealth and power, consume even their neighbours, their brothers and sisters,” he said. “How many wars have we seen! And in how many places, even today, are human dignity and freedom treated with contempt!”
Since Russia invaded its neighbour in February, Francis has spoken out against the war at nearly every public event, denouncing what he has called atrocities and unprovoked aggression.
He did not specifically mention Ukraine on Saturday night.
“As always, the principal victims of this human greed are the weak and the vulnerable,” he said.
“I think above all of the children devoured by war, poverty and injustice.”
Drawing a parallel between the infant Jesus born in a manger and the poverty of today, the pope said: “In the manger of rejection and discomfort, God makes himself present. He comes there because there we see the problem of our humanity: the indifference produced by the greedy rush to possess and consume.”
Earlier this month, the pope urged people to spend less on Christmas celebrations and gifts and send the difference to Ukrainians to help them get through the winter.
The pope marked his 86th birthday last week and, apart from the knee ailment, appears to be in overall good health.
On Sunday, he is due to deliver his twice-year “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands of people in the square below.