A nativity scene in the Hermitage of Greccio Sanctuary
（2019.12.1 Vatican News）
教皇はまた、聖フランシスコが訪れた1223年のグレッチョを思い起こされ、「そこで聖フランシスコが目にした洞窟は、ベツレヘムの田舎を思い出させた。 12月25日、修道士たちと地元の人々が集まり、花とたいまつを持って来ました… フランシスコが到着すると、干し草、牛、ロバでいっぱいの飼い葉おけを目にしました… ある司祭が飼い葉おけで聖体を祝い、神の子の受肉と聖体の絆を示しました」、そして「これが私たちの伝統の始まりです… 誰もが洞窟の周りに喜びで集まり、過去の出来事とその謎を分かち合う人々の間には距離がありません… イエスの教えは今日も続けられています… 私たちの信仰の美しさを描写するための簡潔でありながら本物の手段を提供するために」と説かれている。
さらに、イエスの母マリアと父ヨゼフについて言及され、まずマリアについては「ご自分の子を自分だけの者とせず、全ての訪問客に魅せられました… その姿に、私たちは、「息子を自分だけのものにせず、彼の言葉に従い、実践するように」全ての人を招かれる神の母を見るのです」とされ、聖ヨゼフは「彼女の側に立って、幼子と母を守る… 神の意思に自分を常に委ねる保護者、正義の人です」と説かれた。
そして、「私たちが飼い葉おけに幼子イエスの像を置く時、キリスト降誕の場面がよみがえります… それは不可能に思えますが、真実です。イエスにおいて、神は幼児であり、このような仕方で、神はご自分の愛の偉大さを表したいと思われたのです。笑顔で腕を広げて、です」と語られ、「プレゼピオは、歴史の流れを変えた独創的で比類のないこの出来事に私たちを見させ、触れさせ… また、私たちの命がどのようにして神の命の一部であるのかについて熟考させるのです」とされた。
Admirable signum OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCESCO ON THE MEANING AND THE VALUE OF THE CRIB
1. The admirable sign of the manger, so dear to the Christian people, always arouses astonishment and wonder. Representing the event of Jesus’ birth is equivalent to announcing the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God with simplicity and joy. The crib, in fact, is like a living Gospel, which overflows from the pages of Sacred Scripture. While we contemplate the Christmas scene, we are invited to set out spiritually on the way, attracted by the humility of the One who became man to meet every man. And we discover that he loves us so much that he joins us, so that we too can unite with him.
With this letter I would like to support the beautiful tradition of our families, who prepare the crib in the days before Christmas. As well as the custom of setting it up in workplaces, schools, hospitals, prisons, squares … It is truly an exercise in creative imagination, which uses the most disparate materials to create small masterpieces of beauty. One learns as a child: when father and mother, together with their grandparents, transmit this joyful habit, which embodies a rich popular spirituality. I hope that this practice never fails; indeed, I hope that, where it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revitalized.
2. The origin of the manger is reflected first of all in some evangelical details of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The Evangelist Luke simply says that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the house” (2,7). Jesus is placed in a manger, which in Latin is called praesepium , from which the manger .
Entering this world, the Son of God finds a place where animals go to eat. Hay becomes the first bed for Him who will reveal himself as “the bread which came down from heaven” ( Jn 6:41). A symbolism that St. Augustine, together with other Fathers, had grasped when he wrote: “Lying in a manger, he became our food” ( Serm . 189.4). In reality, the crib contains different mysteries of the life of Jesus and makes them feel close to our daily life.
But we immediately come to the origin of the crib as we understand it. We go with the mind to Greccio, in the Reatina Valley, where St. Francis stopped coming probably from Rome, where on November 29, 1223 he had received confirmation of his Rule from Pope Honorius III. After his trip to the Holy Land, those caves reminded him in a special way of the landscape of Bethlehem. And it is possible that the Poverello had been struck, in Rome, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, by the mosaics with the representation of the birth of Jesus, right next to the place where, according to an ancient tradition, the tables of the manger were preserved.
The Franciscan Sources tell in detail what happened in Greccio. Fifteen days before Christmas, Francis called a local man, named John, and asked him to help him in making a wish: “I would like to represent the Child born in Bethlehem, and somehow see with the eyes of the body the hardships in which was found for the lack of things necessary for a newborn, as he was laid in a crib and as he lay on the hay between the ox and the donkey ». As soon as he listened to it, his faithful friend immediately went to set up everything he needed in the place designated, according to the Saint’s desire. On December 25, many friars came to Greccio from various parts and men and women also arrived from the farmhouses in the area, bringing flowers and torches to light up that holy night. When Francesco arrived, he found the crib with the hay, the ox and the donkey. The people who took notice showed an unspeakable joy, never tasted before, before the Christmas scene. Then the priest, on the manger, solemnly celebrated the Eucharist, showing the link between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist. On that occasion, in Greccio, there were no figurines: the crib was created and lived by those who were present. 
This is how our tradition is born: all around the cave and filled with joy, without any distance between the event that takes place and those who become participants of the mystery.
The first biographer of St. Francis, Tommaso da Celano, remembers that that night, the gift of a marvelous vision was added to the simple and touching scene: one of those present saw Jesus Bambino himself lying in the manger. From that Christmas crib 1223, “everyone returned to his home full of ineffable joy”. 
3. Saint Francis, with the simplicity of that sign, carried out a great work of evangelization. His teaching has penetrated into the hearts of Christians and remains up to our days as a genuine form to reproduce the beauty of our faith with simplicity. On the other hand, the very place where the first crib was made expresses and evokes these feelings. Greccio becomes a refuge for the soul that hides on the rock to allow itself to be enveloped in silence.
Why does the crib inspire astonishment and move us? First of all because it manifests God’s tenderness. He, the Creator of the universe, lowers to our smallness. The gift of life, already mysterious for us every time, fascinates us even more, seeing that He who was born of Mary is the source and support of every life. In Jesus, the Father gave us a brother who comes to look for us when we are disoriented and we lose direction; a faithful friend who is always close to us; he gave us his Son who forgives us and raises us from sin.
Composing the crib in our homes helps us to relive the story that was lived in Bethlehem. Of course, the Gospels always remain the source that allows one to know and meditate on that Event; however, its representation in the crib helps to imagine the scenes, stimulates the affections, invites us to feel involved in the history of salvation, contemporaries of the event that is alive and current in the most diverse historical and cultural contexts.
In a particular way, since the Franciscan origin the crib is an invitation to “feel”, to “touch” the poverty that the Son of God chose for himself in his Incarnation. And so, implicitly, it is a call to follow him on the path of humility, poverty, despoilment, which leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the Cross. It is a call to meet him and serve him with mercy in his neediest brothers and sisters (see Mt 25 : 31-46).
4. I now like to review the various signs of the crib to grasp the meaning they carry within them. First, we represent the context of the starry sky in the dark and the silence of the night. It is not only in fidelity to the evangelical tales that we do it this way, but also for the meaning it has. Think of how many times the night surrounds our lives. Well, even in those moments, God does not leave us alone, but makes himself present to answer the decisive questions concerning the meaning of our existence: who am I? Where do I come from? Why was I born at this time? Why do I love? Why am I suffering? Why will I die? To answer these questions, God became man. His closeness brings light where there is darkness and enlightens those who cross the darkness of suffering (see Lk 1.79).
The landscapes that are part of the crib also deserve a word and often represent the ruins of ancient houses and buildings, which in some cases replace the Bethlehem cave and become the home of the Holy Family. These ruins seem to be inspired by the Legenda Aurea of the Dominican Jacopo da Varazze (XIII century), where we read of a pagan belief that the temple of Peace in Rome would collapse when a Virgin gave birth. Those ruins are above all the visible sign of fallen humanity, of everything that is in ruins, which is corrupt and saddened. This scenario says that Jesus is the novelty in the midst of an old world, and has come to heal and rebuild, to bring our life and the world back to their original splendor.
5. How much emotion should accompany us as we place mountains, streams, sheep and shepherds in the crib! In this way we remember, as the prophets had announced, that all creation participates in the celebration of the coming of the Messiah. The angels and the comet are the sign that we too are called to set out to reach the cave and worship the Lord.
“Let us go as far as Bethlehem, let us see this event which the Lord has made known to us” ( Lk 2:15): this is what the shepherds say after the announcement made by the angels. It is a very beautiful teaching that comes to us in the simplicity of the description. Unlike so many people intent on doing a thousand other things, the shepherds become the first witnesses of the essential, that is, of the salvation that is given. They are the most humble and the poorest who know how to welcome the event of the Incarnation. To God who comes to meet us in the Infant Jesus, the shepherds respond by setting out towards him, for a meeting of love and grateful wonder. It is precisely this encounter between God and his children, thanks to Jesus, that gives life to our religion, to constitute its unique beauty, which shines through in a particular way in the crib.
6. In our cribs we usually put so many symbolic statues. First of all, those of beggars and of people who know no other abundance than that of the heart. They too are close to the Child Jesus in their own right, without anyone being able to evict them or remove them from a crib so improvised that the poor around it do not clash at all. The poor, indeed, are the privileged of this mystery and, often, those who are most able to recognize the presence of God in our midst.
The poor and the simple in the crib remember that God becomes man for those who feel the need for his love and ask for his closeness. Jesus, “meek and humble of heart” ( Mt.11.29), he was born poor, he led a simple life to teach us to grasp the essential and live of it. From the crib the message clearly emerges that we cannot let ourselves be deceived by wealth and by so many ephemeral proposals of happiness. Herod’s palace is in the background, closed, deaf to the announcement of joy. Being born in the crib, God himself begins the only real revolution that gives hope and dignity to the disinherited, to the marginalized: the revolution of love, the revolution of tenderness. From the manger, Jesus proclaims, with mild power, the call to share with the latter as a path to a more human and fraternal world, where no one is excluded and marginalized.
Often children – but even adults! – they love to add other figurines to the crib that seem to have no connection with the gospel stories. And yet, this imagination intends to express that in this new world inaugurated by Jesus there is room for all that is human and for every creature. From the shepherd to the blacksmith, from the baker to the musicians, from the women who bring the jugs of water to the children who play …: all this represents the daily holiness, the joy of doing in an extraordinary way the things of everyday life, when Jesus shares with us his divine life.
7. Little by little the crib leads us to the cave, where we find the statuettes of Mary and Joseph. Maria is a mother who contemplates her child and shows it to those who come to visit him. His statuette makes one think of the great mystery that involved this girl when God knocked on the door of her immaculate heart. At the announcement of the angel who asked her to become the mother of God, Mary replied with full and total obedience. His words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done for me according to your word” ( Lc1.38), are for all of us the testimony of how to abandon oneself in faith to the will of God. With that “yes” Mary became the mother of the Son of God without losing, indeed consecrating his virginity thanks to him. We see in her the Mother of God who does not keep her Son only for herself, but asks everyone to obey his word and put it into practice (see Jn 2 : 5).
Next to Mary, in an attitude of protecting the Child and her mother, there is Saint Joseph. It is generally depicted with the stick in hand, and sometimes even while holding a lamp. Saint Joseph plays a very important role in the life of Jesus and Mary. He is the caretaker who never tires of protecting his family. When God warns him of the threat of Herod, he will not hesitate to set out and emigrate to Egypt (see Matthew 2 : 13-15). And once the danger has passed, he will bring the family back to Nazareth, where he will be the first educator of a child and adolescent Jesus. Joseph carried in his heart the great mystery that enveloped Jesus and Mary his bride, and as a just man he always trusted in the will of God and put it into practice.
8. The heart of the crib begins to palpitate when, at Christmas, we place the statue of the Infant Jesus. God looks like this, in a child, to be welcomed in our arms. In weakness and fragility he hides his power that creates and transforms everything. It seems impossible, yet it is so: in Jesus God was a child and in this condition he wanted to reveal the greatness of his love, which is manifested in a smile and in stretching his hands towards anyone.
The birth of a child arouses joy and wonder, because it sets before the great mystery of life. Seeing the eyes of the young couple shining in front of their newborn son, we understand the feelings of Mary and Joseph who, watching the baby Jesus, perceived the presence of God in their lives.
“For life manifested itself” ( 1 Jn 1: 2): thus the apostle John summarizes the mystery of the Incarnation. The crib makes us see, makes us touch this unique and extraordinary event that has changed the course of history, and from which we also order the numbering of years, before and after the birth of Christ.
God’s way of acting almost stunned, because it seems impossible that He renounces his glory to become a man like us. What a surprise to see God taking on our own behaviors: he sleeps, takes milk from his mother, cries and plays like all children! As always, God disconcerts, is unpredictable, continually out of our schemes. Therefore the crib, while showing us God as it entered the world, causes us to think about our life inserted in that of God; he invites us to become his disciples if we want to reach the ultimate meaning of life.
9. When the feast of the Epiphany approaches, the three statues of the Magi are placed in the crib. Looking at the star, those wise and rich gentlemen of the East had set out for Bethlehem to know Jesus, and to offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts also have an allegorical meaning: gold honors the royalty of Jesus; incense its deity; myrrh his holy humanity that will know death and burial.
Looking at this scene in the crib we are called to reflect on the responsibility that every Christian has of being an evangelizer. Each of us becomes the bearer of the Beautiful News with those we meet, bearing witness to the joy of having met Jesus and his love with concrete actions of mercy.
The Magi teach that one can start from far away to reach Christ. They are rich men, wise foreigners, thirsty for the infinite, who leave for a long and dangerous journey that takes them to Bethlehem (see Mt 2 : 1-12). A great joy pervades them before the Child King. They do not let themselves be scandalized by the poverty of the environment; they do not hesitate to get on their knees and worship him. Before Him they understand that God, as a rule with sovereign wisdom the course of the stars, thus guides the course of history, lowering the powerful and exalting the humble. And certainly, having returned to their country, they will have recounted this surprising encounter with the Messiah, inaugurating the journey of the Gospel among the people.
10. In front of the manger, the mind willingly goes to when one was a child and impatiently expected time to start building it. These memories lead us to always become aware of the great gift that has been given to us by transmitting our faith; and at the same time they make us feel the duty and the joy of participating in children and grandchildren the same experience. It is not important how the crib is set up, it can always be the same or be modified every year; what matters is that it speaks to our life. Wherever and in any form, the crib tells the love of God, the God who became a child to tell us how close he is to every human being, whatever his condition.
Dear brothers and sisters, the crib is part of the sweet and demanding process of transmission of the faith. Starting from childhood and then in every age of life, it educates us to contemplate Jesus, to feel the love of God for us, to feel and believe that God is with us and we are with Him, all children and brothers thanks to that Child Son of God and of the Virgin Mary. And to feel that happiness is in this. At the school of St. Francis, we open our hearts to this simple grace, we let humble prayer come from wonder: our “thank you” to God who wanted to share everything with us so as to never leave us alone.
Given in Greccio, in the Sanctuary of the Nativity, 1 December 2019, seventh of the pontificate.
教皇フランシスコ 使徒的書簡 『Admirabile signum（感嘆すべきしるし）』プレゼピオの意味と価値について （2019年12月1日）