Pope Francis assured the faithful that God loves everyone, “even the worst of us”, as he celebrated the joyous birth of Christ when celebrated a solemn Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for thousands of people as hundreds of others watched on large screens outside.
With a choir singing the classic Christmas hymn The First Noel, Francis processed down the centre aisle of St Peter’s Basilica and unveiled a statue of the newborn Jesus lying in a nativity scene at the foot of the altar.
Francis said the birth of Jesus, which Christians commemorate on Christmas Day, was a reminder of God’s unconditional love for everyone, “even the worst of us”.
“God does not love you because you think and act the right way,” he said.
“You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you.”
At the same time though, he called for the faithful to allow themselves to be transformed by Jesus’ “crazy love” and to stop trying to change others.
“May we not wait for our neighbours to be good before we do good to them, for the church to be perfect before we love her, for others to respect us before we serve them.
“Let us begin with ourselves,” he said.
Francis has frequently emphasised his call for “personal conversion” in his reform-minded papacy, believing that true reform cannot be imposed from on high, but discerned from within.
He has similarly denounced the “holier-than-thou” attitude of doctrinal and legal purists, who have chafed at his progressive openings to gays, divorcees and people on the margins.
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