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Pope Francis: Admirabile Signum, may the custom of setting up a nativity scene “never be lost”

“The enchanting image of the Christmas crèche, so dear to the Christian people, never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder”. Thus begins the Apostolic Letter Admirabile Signum, signed by Pope Francis during his visit to Greccio yesterday. For the first Pope who took the name of Francis, on pilgrimage to the place where Francis of Assisi created the first crib in history, the nativity scene is “like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture”. The purpose of the letter is to “encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the nativity scene in the days before Christmas”. As well as “the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares. Great imagination and creativity is always shown in employing the most diverse materials to create small masterpieces of beauty”. “As children”, the Pope recalled, “we learn from our parents and grandparents to carry on this joyful tradition, which encapsulates a wealth of popular piety”. “It is my hope that this custom” of preparing the nativity scene “will never be lost – the Pope remarked – and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived. The Holy Father then focused on the origin of the chrèche that “is found above all in certain details of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, as related in the Gospels”. Indeed, the Latin word “Praesepium” means “manger”, and hay, used as animal feed, becomes “the first bed of the One who would reveal himself as the bread come down from heaven”. Saint Augustine, with other Church Fathers, was impressed by this symbolism: “Laid in a manger, he became our food”. “The nativity scene evokes a number of the mysteries of Jesus’ life and brings them close to our own daily lives”, Pope Francis wrote.

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