As part of its yearly Nativity scene, the Vatican has included the spire from the Basilica of Saint Benedict in Norcia, one of the dozens of church buildings damaged or destroyed in recent Italian earthquakes.
This year, the iconic life-size Christmas nativity scene in the center of Saint Peter’s Square comprises the spire from the church along with some of the rubble left after an earthquake levelled the basilica in late October.
The town of Norcia, birthplace of Saint Benedict, the 6th-century founder of western monasticism, saw tremendous devastation, and the 6.6 magnitude quake reduced the basilica bearing the Saint’s name to ruins.
— Thomas D. Williams (@tdwilliamsrome) October 30, 2016
The Vatican has announced that any offerings left in the square by pilgrims and tourists will go toward rebuilding the Norcia church.
Each year the Vatican places a huge Christmas tree in Saint Peter’s Square directly in front of the Vatican Basilica. The tradition of erecting a Christmas Tree as well as the life-size Nativity Scene in the Square dates back to 1982, when Pope John Paul II brought the northern European symbol of Christmas to the Vatican.
This year, the bishops and the civil government of Malta donated and set up the Christmas manger scene, and the Lagorai Forest Association furnished the immense, 25-meter high spruce tree acting as the backdrop of the display.
Along with the artefacts from the Norcia Basilica, the Nativity scene, designed by Maltese artist Manwel Grech, depicts the countryside of Malta, complemented by the traditional Maltese cross as well as the typical local sea vessel called a “luzzu.”
In an address to the artists and donors of the Nativity scene, Pope Francis said that the Maltese boat “recalls the sad and tragic reality of migrants on barges headed toward Italy.”
Looking at the painful experience of these brothers and sisters, Francis said, “let us remember the child Jesus, who at the time of birth could not find lodging and was born in a cave at Bethlehem.”
Afterward, “he was taken to Egypt to escape the threat of Herod. All those who visit this crib are invited to rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing, welcome and solidarity,” he said.
Last year, the Vatican reclaimed the traditional Judeo-Christian symbol of the rainbow, decorating the enormous Christmas tree in in rainbow colors as a sign of the coming of the Messiah rather than a symbol of the LGBT movement.
The tree was adorned with rows of ceramic spheres in the colors of the rainbow, recalling God’s promise of peace with the world after the great flood described in the book of Genesis.
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