Jesus was Born to Save the World: Pope Francis at Christmas Mass

Pope Francis takes a figure of the Christ child in his arms at the end of the Vatican's Mass for the Nativity of the Lord on Dec. 24, 2023. | Vatican Media

In his Christmas homily, Pope Francis shared a message for anyone who may be feeling sad or discouraged with a reminder that the Lord was born to save the world and to give us a hope that is greater than all of our problems.

“Dear brother, dear sister, to God who changed history … you are not a number but a face. Your name is written on his heart,” Pope Francis said on Dec. 24.

“Leave behind the prison of your sorrows and embrace the tender love of the God who became a child. … Cast your cares on him and he will care for you (cf. Ps 55:22). He became flesh; he is not looking for your achievements, but for your open and trusting heart. In Him, you will rediscover who you truly are: a beloved son or daughter of God.”

Pope Francis presided over Mass for the Nativity of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve

The Mass began with a cantor chanting the traditional Kalenda Proclamation of the Birth of Christ from the Roman Martyrology. Children from Mexico, India, South Korea, the Ivory Coast, and Italy then placed flowers before a figure of the Christ child enthroned in front of the altar.


Children place flowers before a figure of the Christ child enthroned in front of the altar of St. Peter's Basilica. Vatican Media

“Tonight, our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war, by the clash of arms that even today prevents him from finding room in the world,” Pope Francis said, calling to mind the war in the Holy Land and the ongoing violence in the place of Jesus’ birth.

The pope underlined that God “revolutionizes history by becoming a part of history.” The Lord “does not eliminate pain, but transforms it,” he said. “He does not remove problems from our lives, but grants us a hope that is greater than all our problems.”

“God so greatly desires to embrace our lives that, infinite though he is, he becomes finite for our sake. In his greatness, he chooses to become small; in his righteousness, he submits to our injustice,” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“Brothers and sisters, this is the wonder of Christmas: not a mixture of sappy emotions and worldly contentment, but the unprecedented tenderness of a God who saves the world by becoming incarnate.”

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The pope urged people to “rediscover worship” by learning from the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the shepherds, and the Magi who “stood gazing upon Jesus with their hearts set on him.”

In his homily, Pope Francis quoted a letter J.R.R Tolkien wrote to his son in 1941: “‘I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. … There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.’”

Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on the night of Dec. 24, 2023. Vatican Media

The pope underlined that worship in adoration is never a waste of time, but makes “our time a dwelling place for God.”

“[To worship] is to let the seed of the Incarnation bloom within us; it is to cooperate in the work of the Lord, who, like leaven, changes the world. To worship is to intercede, to make reparation, to allow God to realign history.”


During the Mass, the choir sang traditional Christmas carols, including “The First Noel,” “Silent Night,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

About 6,500 people were present inside of the basilica for the Mass, according to the Vatican.

“While those who exercise power seek to take their place with the great ones of history, the King of history chooses the way of littleness. None of the powerful take notice of him: only a few shepherds, relegated to the margins of social life,” Pope Francis said.

Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on the night of Dec. 24, 2023. Vatican Media

Pope Francis explained that the Lord saves us, not by waving a “magic wand” or “pushing a button,” but by drawing near to us, in order to change our world from within.

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“If you look to your own heart, and think of your own inadequacies and this world that is so judgmental and unforgiving, you may feel it difficult to celebrate this Christmas. You may think things are going badly, or feel dissatisfied with your limitations, your failings, your problems, and your sins,” he said.

“Today, though, please, let Jesus take the initiative. He says to you, ‘For your sake, I became flesh; for your sake, I became just like you.’”

Pope Francis brings a figure of the Christ child over to the nativity scene inside of St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of Mass. Vatican Media

“Tonight the Lord was born to light up your life; his eyes are alight with love for you,” he added.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, served as the main celebrant at the altar for the Christmas Mass.

At the end of Mass, the 87-year-old pope was brought up in a wheelchair to the front of the altar, where he kissed a figure of the Christ child and brought it over to the nativity scene inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Brothers and sisters, tonight love changes history,” Pope Francis said. “Make us believe, Lord, in the power of your love, so different from the power of the world. Lord, make us, like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Magi, gather around you and worship you. As you conform us ever more to yourself, we shall bear witness before the world to the beauty of your countenance.”

Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.