Pope Francis ushered in Christmas celebrations for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics on Tuesday, saying the celebration of Jesus’s birth reminded humanity how “God continues to love us all, even the worst of us”.
The pontiff told crowds gathered at the Vatican for his Christmas Eve Mass: “You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you.”
Pilgrims from around the world had gathered earlier on Tuesday in the biblical town of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus.
Thousands of Palestinians and foreigners converged on the “little town” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with Christmas Eve festivities taking place in and around the Church of the Nativity.
The Middle East’s most senior Roman Catholic, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, arrived from Jerusalem at the head of a procession.
Pizzaballa, who had to cross Israel’s separation barrier to get to Bethlehem, said after his arrival that it was a difficult time but there was reason for hope.
“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families,” he said.
“On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a lot of commitment… for the future. Christmas is for us to celebrate the hope.”
In the square outside the church, a few thousand people watched in the winter sun as Palestinian scouts paraded in front of a giant Christmas tree.