In the splendour of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis presided over the Christmas Eve Mass attended by more than 7,000 faithful on Saturday.
Recalling Jesus’ birth in a stable, Pope Francis rebuked those “ravenous” for wealth and power at the expense of the vulnerable in a homily decrying war, poverty and greedy consumerism.
When the Mass ended, the Pope, pushed in a wheelchair by an aide, moved down the basilica with a life-sized statue of Baby Jesus on his lap and flanked by several children carrying bouquets.
Francis, 86, has been using a wheelchair to navigate long distances due to a painful knee ligament and a cane for shorter distances.
Traditionally, Catholics mark Christmas Eve by attending Mass at midnight.
But over the years, the starting time has crept earlier, reflecting the health or stamina of the Pope.
Since Covid, the start of the service was moved to 7.30 pm local time.
On Sunday, the Pope is set to deliver a Christmas blessing to a crowd from all around the world in St Peter's Square.
Meanwhile, Christmas tourism has returned to Bethlehem in the West Bank.
Revered in Christian tradition as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the town usually welcomes thousands of pilgrims and tourists for Christmas every year.
But the pandemic and travel restrictions severely impacted these numbers.
This year, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem greeted worshippers, ahead of leading the annual Christmas eve procession at the Church of the Nativity.
The service was attended by Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the State of Palestine.
The Israeli Tourism Ministry said it expected about 120,000 pilgrims from all over the world.