Pope says Nativity scenes belong in town squares, schools

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Pope Francis pleaded for fraternity "among individuals of every nation and culture" in his annual Christmas message at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican Tuesday.

In a move sure to inflame the open-minded left, which eagerly embraces all traditions, cultures and faiths as long as they are not Christianity or Judaism, Pope Francis has encouraged the placement of Christmas Nativity scenes in workplaces, schools and town squares.

Francis hailed the displays as “simple and admirable” signs of Christian faith, bolstering a Christmas tradition that has triggered bitter legal fights in the United States.

The displays have caused legal battles over separation of church and state when they have been put up on public property in the U.S., and the question has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In one recent case, a small city in Delaware ordered a Catholic church to remove a Nativity scene displayed on city property.

On Sunday in the hill town of Greccio, Italy, where St. Francis of Assisi created the first creche scene using living people instead of statues around 1223, Francis signed an apostolic letter emphasizing the importance of creche scenes in popular faith, the Associated Press reports.

“With this letter, I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the Nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares,” the pope said in the letter, which was read aloud to a gathering inside a small, stone church in Greccio.

“Great imagination and creativity are always shown in employing the most diverse materials to create small masterpieces of beauty. As children, we learn from our parents and grandparents to carry on this joyful tradition, which encapsulates a wealth of popular piety,” Francis wrote.

“It is my hope that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived,” the letter read.

Earlier in the day, at the Vatican, Francis described a creche scene as “a simple and admirable sign of the Christian faith.”

Francis made no mention of the legal battles and civic disputes. Instead he stressed the enriched faith people could draw from recreating the scene, in which the baby Jesus was placed in a manger because the pregnant Mary and her husband, Joseph, could not find lodgings.

Francis said the Nativity scene reminds people that Jesus was “born in poverty and led a simple life in order to teach us to recognize what is essential and to act accordingly.”

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