Vatican Nativity Scene Pays Tribute to the Plight of Refugees

The Vatican paid tribute to refugees on Friday, December 9, with the opening of the Pope’s annual nativity scene installed in St. Peter’s Square.

The scene features not only the traditional depiction of the birth of Jesus but also a luzzu, a traditional Maltese fishing boat, which was donated to the Vatican by the Archdiocese and government of Malta, the Huffington Post reports. The number of refugees crossing to Italy from Malta has lessened in recent times, but many still attempt the treacherous crossing.

“In the painful experience of these brothers and sisters, we revisit that [experience] of baby Jesus, who at the time of his birth did not find accommodation and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem and then was brought to Egypt to escape Herod’s threat,” Pope Francis said in a speech at the opening of the scene, according to Crux.

This year's Vatican Nativity scene. Photo VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

This year’s Vatican Nativity scene. Photo VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis then went on to draw attention to the symbolism of the nativity scene, as well as the Christmas story’s deeper meaning, stating that the boat drew attention to “the sad and tragic reality of migrants on boats making their way toward Italy.”

“Those who visit this crèche will be invited to rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing, welcoming and solidarity,” Pope Francis added.

The scene also includes the spire and some rubble from St. Benedict Basilica in Norcia, which was destroyed in the earthquakes that hit central Italy earlier this year, and seventeen figures dressed in traditional Maltese dress. All money donated at the scene will go towards repair work taking place in Norcia.

The inauguration in St. Peter’s Square came two days ahead of a Vatican representative presenting a letter to President Assad of Syria on Monday, December 12, reported by the Guardian. In the letter, Pope Francis asked Assad to ensure the protection of civilians against the ongoing conflict in the country.

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