By Philip Pullella
VATICANCITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis led the world’s Roman Catholics into Christmas on Monday, urging people in the developed world to seek a simpler, less materialistic life and condemning the yawning gap between the rich and the poor.
Francis, 82, marking the sixth Christmas of his papacy, led a solemn service for nearly 10,000 people in St. Peter’s Basilica for his traditional Christmas Eve Mass.
Security has been tight around the Vatican and many other tourist areas in Rome for the Christmas season.
Last week police in southern Italy arrested a Somali man suspected of having been a member of Islamic State and who had threatened to bomb churches in Italy, including St. Peter’s.
In his homily, Francis said the infant Jesus, born in poverty in a stable, should make everyone, particularly those who have become “greedy and voracious,” reflect on the real meaning of life.
“… Let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?” Francis said.
“In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive,” he said.
Francis, the first pope from Latin America, has made defending the poor a hallmark of his papacy.
On Saturday, the Vatican said he had given the homeless in Rome a Christmas gift of a new clinic in St. Peter’s Square where they can get free medical help.
The Catholic charity Caritas estimated late last year that there are more than 16,000 homeless in Rome and their number congregating near the Vatican has grown visibly in recent years, especially at night when they cluster under arcades to sleep.
Monday night’s Christmas Eve papal Mass was the first held with a new, energy-saving lighting system for the largest church in Christendom. It employs 100,000 LEDs (light emitting diodes), using only 10 percent of the energy of the previous system.
On Christmas Day on Tuesday, Francis will deliver his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the same balcony where he first appeared after his election on March 13, 2013.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)