Pope says Jesus is 'the hand God extends to humanity'

God sent his son into the world to save it from evil, pride and violence, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Urbi et Orbi message on Christmas Day.

“The child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace,” the Pope said as he stood on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica and gave his solemn Christmas blessing.

Tens of thousands of people were gathered in St Peter’s Square for the noon address and blessing. Under bright skies they listened to the music of military bands, admired the Vatican’s Nativity scene and took pictures of the Swiss Guards, who were wearing armour over their colourful medieval uniforms.

In his Christmas message, as in his homily at Mass the night before, Pope Benedict spoke about God’s desire to save humanity and his decision to do that by being born in Bethlehem, living among people, dying for them and rising from the dead.

“Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers,” the Pope said. Jesus “is the hand God extends to humanity to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his truth and love”.

Pope Benedict said that most of the world’s problems were caused by human sin, “the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death”.

Jesus came to earth to bring people back to God, to turn them from their sin and to promote reconciliation, dialogue and co-operation, he said.

As is customary, Pope Benedict used his message to ask Christians to pray and offer concrete help to people who are suffering this Christmas, from famine in the Horn of Africa, flooding in Thailand and the Philippines, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, violence in Syria, a lack of peace and security in Iraq and Afghanistan, the struggle for democracy and human rights in across North Africa and the Middle East, and for the people of Burma, South Sudan and Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Just before the Pope appeared at the balcony, news agencies reported a bomb blast at a Catholic Church on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria.

Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the blast, “precisely on the occasion of the celebration of Christmas, unfortunately once again is a sign of the ruthlessness of a blind and absurd hatred that has no regard for human life and tries to create and increase more hatred and confusion”.

“We are close to the suffering of the church and the entire Nigerian people so harshly tried by terrorist violence, even in these days that should be days of joy and peace,” Fr Lombardi said.

At midnight Mass on December 24 in St Peter’s Basilica, the Pope said: “God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace.”

At the beginning of the two-hour liturgy, children from Italy, Guatemala, Gabon, Burkina Faso, South Korea and France brought white flowers up to a statue of the baby Jesus near the altar.

The 84-year-old Pope processed in on a mobile platform.

Children carried the gifts of bread and wine to the Pope during the offertory. The procession was led by two very young Korean boys, and the Pope, with a big smile, watched them approach, blessed them and patted their heads.

At the end of the Mass, the children took the flowers to the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Basilica, where a deacon placed the statue of baby Jesus. The Pope followed behind them on his mobile platform and when everything was in place, artificial snow began to fall on the scene. It was the first time this had happened, according to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said that the birth of Jesus was something completely new in salvation history: God became visible.

“No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words,” he said.

Before Christ’s birth, ancient people feared that God might be “cruel and arbitrary” and, instead, Christmas proves that “God is pure goodness,” the Pope said.

“At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways,” he said, the world cries out to God.

They pray that God’s “peace may triumph in this world of ours”, he said.

Pope Benedict said Christmas is about the birth of the Saviour, the Prince of Peace, and not sentimentality.

“Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light,” he said.