By Devin Watkins
St. Peter’s Square was aglow on Friday evening, as a host of onlookers beheld the lighting of this year’s creche and Christmas tree.
It provided a sign of Advent hope in Christ’s coming for a world straining under the darkness of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The event began at 5:00 PM Rome time, and attendees observed all the now-normal health measures.
The tree—a 30-meter-tall, 7-ton Norway spuce (Picea abies)—stood glowing with pride, surpassed in height in its immediate surroundings only by the ancient Egyptian obelisk towering next to it.
Hailing from the Kočevje area in southern Slovenia, the Christmas tree has taken up temporary residence in St. Peter’s Square, until 10 January 2021, for the benefit of the few able to travel to the Eternal City.
But those who wish to gaze upon it can also tune in to the 24-hour live feed of Vatican Media on YouTube.
All is bright
The ceremony also shone the light—literally—on two other works of art adorning St. Peter’s.
This year’s Nativity scene, which comes from Castelli in Italy’s Abruzzo region, also caught the eye with its ceramic statues of the Holy Family, cast in larger-than-life size.
The Holy Family of Nazareth formed the focus of another sculpture lit up on Friday, though cast in a different guise.
Mother and child
Called Angels Unawares, the bronze sculpture depicts a boat of migrants and refugees from various cultural milieus and time periods. It was installed in the Square on 29 September 2019 under the patronage of the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section.
A special light shone on the three members of the Holy Family, who in their own time were forced to flee the tyranny of violence.
It is a “sign to highlight the deeper meaning of Christmas and to recall that Jesus, with Mary and Joseph, was also a migrant, fleeing for his life,” according to a press release from the Migrants and Refugees Section.
Friday evening’s festival of lights was attended by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello and Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, as well as official delegations from the areas which donated the tree and creche.
As Pope Francis told the Slovenian and Italian delegates earlier that same morning, these “icons of Christmas” are now, more than ever, “a sign of hope for the people of Rome and for those pilgrims who will have the opportunity to come and admire them.”