“They remember history, have life experience and, for you, this will be a great gift that will help you in your journey,” he told hundreds of Italian children on December 19.
The children were members of Catholic Action’s children’s section, parish-based groups of young people from four to 14 years of age. The Pope traditionally has an audience with them before Christmas.
“I’m giving you homework,” he told them.
The joy that comes from Christ and his love “is contagious” and, while it must be shared with everyone, the Pope said he wanted them to make sure they definitely shared it with their grandparents.
“Speak often with your grandparents. They, too, have this contagious joy. Ask them lots of things, listen to them,” he said.
Grandparents also need to listen to their grandchildren, “to understand your dreams, your hopes,” said the 80-year-old Pope.
He asked the children to remember during the Christmas season what the angel told the shepherds — “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
“When we are a bit sad, when everything seems to go wrong, when a friend lets us down, or rather we let ourselves down, we think, ‘God loves me,’ ‘God doesn’t abandon me,'” he said.
“Our father is always faithful and he never stops loving us for an instant, following our every step and also running after us when we distance ourselves a bit. This is why there is always joy in a Christian heart.”
Meanwhile, Pope Francis also urged Catholics to get ready for what Christmas really is about — the child born in Bethlehem signalling that “God is with us”.
“This week let’s make sure we try to find some time to stop, be quiet and imagine Our Lady and St Joseph who are going to Bethlehem,” he said after greeting people gathered in St Peter’s Square on December 18 for the Sunday Angelus.
Imagine what the Holy Family experienced on their journey: “the fatigue, but also the joy, the emotions and then the anxiety in looking for a place, the worry and so forth,” he said.
The Christmas nativity scene is very helpful in aiding these reflections, he said, adding “let us try to enter into the real Christmas — that of Jesus, who drew near to us, God with us, near us — in order to receive the grace of this holiday, which is a grace of closeness, love, humility and tenderness.”
Before praying the Angelus with visitors, the Pope asked that people welcome God with the same trust, faith, obedience and generosity Mary and Joseph had when they opened their lives to God and changed the course of history.
God asks everyone if he can “enter our life and offer us his son as gift. And us, what do we do? Do we welcome him, let him draw near or do we refuse him? Chase him away?” the Pope said.
By welcoming God and seeking to follow him every day we, too, can “cooperate in his plan of salvation for us and the world,” he said.
The Pope also reflected on the experience of the Holy Family in a December 17 video message to participants of a benefit concert at the Vatican for a children’s hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic, and victims of the earthquakes that struck central Italy.
Poverty and mercy, he said, were the way with which God chose to reveal himself to humanity.
“Christmas, which is almost upon us, reminds us of the way in which God entered the world: born of the Virgin Mary and, like all children, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes, picked up and nursed. Not only that, he, his mother and Joseph had to come to terms with the fact that there was no room for them in the inn,” he said.
God, Pope Francis added, chose to manifest himself not only in precarious circumstances but also first revealed the birth of his son to the most excluded.
“The good news, the announcement of the birth was not delivered to a king and princes but to shepherds, men poorly or ill-treated, hardened sinners, we could say. This is our God.”