Pope laments Christmas consumerism, glitter

December 24, 2011 - 6:01 PM
Vatican Christmas eve

Pope Benedict XVI is flanked by his aide George Gaenswein as he lights a candle at his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday night, kicking off a busy two weeks of public appearances that will test his stamina. Hours before the evening Mass began, Benedict lit a candle in his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square in a traditional sign of peace. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI is decrying the commercialization of Christmas and urging the faithful to look beyond the holiday's "superficial glitter" to discover its true meaning.

Benedict made the comments Saturday night as he presided over Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. The Mass kicks off an intense two weeks of public appearances that will test the 84-year-old pontiff's stamina amid signs that fatigue is starting to slow him down.

In his homily, Benedict laments that Christmas' commercialization obscures the simplicity of the message of Christ's birth.

He says: "Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem..."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday night, kicking off a busy two weeks of public appearances that will test his stamina.

Wearing cream and gold colored vestments, Benedict processed into St. Peter's Basilica standing on a moving platform — a new concession to spare the 84-year-old pontiff the fatigue of having to walk up and down the long center aisle.

Hours before the evening Mass began, Benedict lit a candle in his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square in a traditional sign of peace. A few hundred people had gathered in the square to watch the candle lighting and the unveiling of the Vatican's larger-than-life nativity scene.

The Christmas Eve Mass was moved up to 10 p.m. from midnight several years ago to spare the pope a late night that is followed by the important Christmas Day "Urbi et Orbi" speech, Latin for "to the city and the world." The speech, delivered from the central loggia of St. Peter's overlooking the piazza, is usually a survey of sorts of the hardships and wars confronting the globe. At the end of it, Benedict is also due to deliver Christmas greetings in dozens of languages.

Next weekend, he'll preside over a New Year's Eve vespers service, followed by a New Year's Day Mass. A few days later he'll celebrate Epiphany Mass followed by his traditional baptizing of babies in the Vatican's frescoed Sistine Chapel.

Security was expected to be tight Saturday night as it has been in recent years. In both 2008 and 2009 there were Christmas Eve security breaches, in which a woman with a history of psychiatric problems and wearing a telltale red sweat shirt jumped the wooden security barrier along the basilica's central aisle.

In 2008, the pope's security detail blocked her from getting to Benedict. But in 2009, she managed to grab Benedict's vestments and pulled him to the ground. The pope was unhurt and continued along with the service, but a French cardinal who was nearby fell and broke his hip.