Pope to lead midnight Christmas Mass amid tight security

Friday, December 24, 2010

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI was Friday set to lead the Vatican’s Christmas festivities by celebrating the traditional midnight Mass.

The ceremony was expected to take place under tight security in the wake of an incident at the same event last year when a mentally disturbed woman jumped over a barrier and lunged at the pontiff, knocking him down.

The 83-year-old Benedict was unhurt in the resulting fracas, but an elderly cardinal suffered a broken leg. The Swiss-born woman, Susanna Maiolo, had already tried to accost the pontiff during the 2008 Christmas Mass, but was blocked by security guards.

As in 2009, Friday’s midnight mass was scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. (2100GMT). The Vatican has said the earlier slot aims to give the pontiff a few extra hours sleep before his Christmas Day duties.

On Friday evening the Vatican was scheduled to unveil in St. Peter’s Square its a Nativity scene, or crib, that recreates the scene of Jesus’ birth - a custom revived in 1982.

The story narrates how Jesus’ mother Mary and her husband Joseph, unable to find lodging, seek a manger for shelter.

This year, the traditional Nativity scene figures will be complemented by a set of nine statues created by Filipino sculptor Kublai Ponce-Millan. These include musicians playing indigenous instruments and a family in a boat pulling a net, heavy with fish.

The statues are a gift from the Philippines government to mark next year’s 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Asian nation and the Vatican.

The Nativity scene stands next to the Vatican’s Christmas tree - this year a 34-metre high Norwegian spruce from Italy’s northeastern Alpine region of Alto Adige.

Benedict has encouraged Catholics to display their own Nativity scenes and Christmas trees, both “spiritual” symbols representing Christ’s appearance on Earth, according to the German-born pontiff.

On Saturday Benedict was scheduled to deliver his Christmas Day blessings and traditional Urbi et Orbi message “to the city and to the world”.

Filed under: Religion

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