Poverty, not presents,
at heart of Christmas

Pope Francis leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 20, 2020. The pope said that current restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can help people put Christ, rather than the constant need to purchase gifts, at the center of the Christmas season. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Current restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic can help people put Christ, and not the constant need to purchase gifts, at the center of the Christmas season, Pope Francis said.

During his Sunday Angelus address Dec. 20, the pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square that instead of complaining or buying “the umpteenth gift for ourselves and our friends,” Christians should do something for the less fortunate “whom no one thinks of.”

“In order for Jesus to be born in us, let’s prepare our hearts, let’s pray, let’s not be swept up by consumerism,” he said. “It is Jesus that is important. Consumerism is not found in the manger in Bethlehem: there is reality, poverty, love.”

Before concluding his address, the pope called on the international community to help hundreds of thousands of maritime workers who are “stranded on ships, beyond the terms of their contracts, and are unable to return home” due to the pandemic.

“I ask the Virgin Mary, Stella Maris, to comfort these people and all those in difficult situations, and I urge governments to do all they can to enable them to return to their loved ones,” he said.

According to the U.N. International Maritime Organization (IMO), an estimated 400,000 seafarers around the world are stranded on their ships while a “similar number of seafarers are stuck at home, unable to join ships and provide for their families.”

In a statement marking Human Rights Day Dec. 10, Kitack Lim, IMO secretary general, said that while maritime workers have been on the frontline of the pandemic, delivering food, medicine and goods, their “human rights have been put in jeopardy.”

“Failure to protect the rights of seafarers, fishers and other marine personnel and resolve the crew change crisis will have a detrimental effect on ship safety and the global supply chain. The longer the situation persists, the worse those effects will be,” Lim said.

In his talk before praying the Angelus prayer, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke which recounted the Annunciation. While the angel’s announcement that she will bear the son of God was one of joy, it also foretold a great trial for Mary.

Mary’s response was not resignation nor did she “express a weak and submissive acceptance, but rather she expresses a strong desire, a vivacious desire.”

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