Surrounded by cheese sellers, shoemakers and bleating, baying animals, Pope Francis immersed himself in a lively re-enactment of a special day in Bethlehem.
He even let a lamb rest on his shoulders and greeted a tiny baby named
Francis, who played the part of Jesus, when he visited a live Nativity
scene Jan. 6 at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori on the
northern outskirts of Rome.
More than 200 people took part in the re-enactment, wearing period
costumes and playing the parts of villagers, artisans and street
sellers. People lined the sides of the road leading to the church and
watched from rooftops and balconies of surrounding buildings.
According to Vatican Radio, the pope greeted each of the participants and many of the parishioners who attended.
One special guest lay waiting in a small hut: a 2-month-old baby named
Francesco, who had been baptized that morning and played the role of
Jesus in the pageant.
A group of men playing shepherds placed a small lamb on the pope's
shoulders, according to the Italian Catholic daily, Avvenire. Children
sang a Christmas song and gave the pope a bouquet of red roses.
At the end of his visit, the pope talked about the importance of a new
year beginning with Jesus, who stays by everyone's side to overcome
evil. He asked everyone to pray for children who would be born in 2014
and for all grandparents, who he said are the source of wisdom.
The priest who organizes the parish's live Nativity scene each year said
he had invited the pope just a few days earlier and the pope had
"The pope was so happy. He told me 'Keep it up. Don't get discouraged,'" Father Dario Criscuoli told journalists.
"Surely to put something like this together you have to be crazy, but
that's OK," the priest said. "God likes some things that are crazy."