Pope Francis lights nativity scene in support of refugees

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Pope Francis lit the Christmas tree and nativity scene in Assisi. From a distance in the Vatican, he performed the ceremony online on December 7.

In attendance at the lower piazza of the Basilica San Francesco were 31 refugees from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Nigeria and Syria. The other invited guest included the Naval officer who assisted in their rescue. All stood alongside local residents as the Christmas tree lit up.

At the foot of the tree stands a nativity scene crafted into the boat used by those who arrived at the Italian island of Lampedusa from Tunisia in 2014.

The Italian State Railway and Italian Navy also handed out toys to families in need.

Staff at the Basilica, the Conventual Franciscan Friars, dedicated the tree and “this Christmas to immigrants“.

In a translated address, according to Vatican Radio, Francis thanked the Coast Guard. He said: “I would like to thank the [members of the] Coast Guard: the good men and women. I thank you, for you were the instrument of hope that brings us Jesus.”

And in reference all refugees, Pope Francis said: “I say a word, that of the prophet: Raise your head, the Lord is near. And with him is strength, salvation, hope. The heart, perhaps, [is] sorrowful, but the head [is] high in the hope of the Lord.”

This follows a statement he made back in October that: “At the heart of the Gospel of mercy, the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself”.