"It is certainly rather a strange Christmas that we are about to celebrate. For the first time in many years the city of Bethlehem, in the days when the whole world looks upon it, is empty! In the story of the first Christmas the hotels were full of people who came to be registered and for this reason Mary and Joseph had to seek refuge in a grotto. To-day, on the contrary, the hotels are closed because they are empty, because there are no pilgrims who have come to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Thanks be to God, the grotto of the Nativity is not empty, because the local Christian community, despite the terrible economic difficulties it is going through, continues to live in the city where Jesus was born and also continues to celebrate with joy and hope the birth of the Child who has come to save us.
This year I would like to send you Christmas greetings from the altar of the three Wise Men, which is located inside the Grotto of the Nativity, right in front of the manger where Mary placed the Infant Jesus.
We all remember that, having heard the Angel's announcement, the shepherds were the first to come to worship the Saviour. Then, after some time, as the Evangelist Matthew tells us, the Wise Men came. These wise men from the East represent all of us, all of humanity.
All of humanity is in search of that Child who changes the destiny of each of us and of the whole world. All of humanity, welcoming this child, is invited to become one family in which we are all brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who sent us His Son, and of that same Son He gave us the Spirit.
Rediscovering ourselves as brothers and sisters today also means rediscovering the value of solidarity with those who are in the same situation as the Child Jesus at that moment of His birth: in need of being welcomed, without a home, deprived of basic necessities, persecuted by those who hold power, forced to flee his or her country. The Magi are an example for us too: they share what they hold most precious and place the Child Jesus at the very centre of their lives.
Even to-day, the Child Jesus continues to make Himself present: in the child who asks to be born, in the elderly cast aside, in the sick with no one to care for him or her, in the exiled stranger, in the poor and marginalized in every corner of our discarded of society.
In this time of suffering, uncertainty, loneliness and anguish, to each of you and your families, the sick and those who take care of them, may the announcement that brings joy and peace flow into your homes from the Grotto of Bethlehem. May it bring hope within your hearts and salvation to the whole world.
I wish you a blessed Christmas from the place where the Magi teach us to kneel before the Child Jesus to adore Him, to put Him at the centre of our lives; to offer the most precious gifts to Him who wished to place Himself into our hands, and to give Himself entirely to us and for us!"
Fr. Francesco Patton ofm
Custos of the Holy Land