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..."
On Sunday, Benedict will deliver his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" speech, Latin for "to the city and the world," from the central balcony of St. Peter's overlooking the piazza.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- Conditions in Bethlehem are a bit
raw, with breezy and rainy conditions, but the tens of thousands of
tourists and Christmas pilgrims are still helping to bring warm
holiday cheer to the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
By late night, the Israeli military, which controls movement in and out of town, said some 100,000 visitors, including foreigners and Arab Christians from Israel, had reached Bethlehem, up from 70,000 the previous year.
Thousands of Palestinians from inside West Bank also converged
on the town.
Manger Square was packed. The square and its 50-foot-tall
Christmas tree are illuminated in Christmas lights.
Among the visitors were a surprisingly large number of veiled
Muslim women with their families, out to enjoy an evening out in
what is normally a quiet town.
Amal Ayash, 46, who came to Manger Square with her three
daughters, all of them covered in veils, said "We love to share this holiday with our Christian brothers.".She added, "It is a Palestinian holiday and we love to come here and watch."
Festivities led up to the Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.