ROME — Wrapping up the Vatican’s traditional holiday season, Pope Francis said Tuesday that that the newborn Jesus is “all around us,” but he is often hidden from those enduring difficult situations such as wars, the exploitation of children, torture, and the trafficking of weapons and people.
“The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world,” Francis said. “It is the path of God’s … glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters.”
The comments came in a homily during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the three wise men to the Christ child as described in the New Testament.
In Christian tradition, the Epiphany is thus regarded as a celebration of God’s revelation in Christ.
The pontiff said that the three wise men, or “Magi,” encountered many temptations along the way, such as the deception of King Herod, “the powerful man who sees others only as rivals,” and of not being able to recognize God in his “smallness.”
According to Francis, the wise men are “models of conversion to the true faith” because “they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendor of power.”
“The wise men represent men and women who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest,” Francis said. “Men and women continue looking for Him.”
Over the centuries, the wise men have often been interpreted as symbols of the gentiles, as opposed to the Jews, and thus embody the openness to Christianity to the entire world.
“That child, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary,” said Francis, “came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for all humanity, represented today by the wise men from the East.”
The Epiphany Mass traditionally marks the closure of the Vatican’s holiday season.
That season began Dec. 22 with the pontiff’s address to the Roman Curia, in which he accused the cardinals and archbishops who make up the Vatican’s administration of suffering “existential schizophrenia,” “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and “excessive planning” while trying to “domesticate the Holy Spirit.”
Since then, the Latin American pope has called for an end to Christian persecution; for the resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Ukraine; for the faithful to remain loyal to the Church, and for a deeper devotion to Mary.
On Sunday, he announced the creation of 20 new cardinals, including 15 under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope.
During Francis’ next public appearance — Wednesday, his usual weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square — he is expected to address his upcoming trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, set for Jan. 12-18.
Hours before departing for his seventh trip outside of Italy, the pontiff will deliver his annual address to the diplomatic corps, generally considered as the pope’s most important foreign policy speech of the year.