Justice & Peace Matters - Reading Laudato Si through the lens of the nativity

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Home > Media > News > Justice & Peace Matters - Reading Laudato Si through the lens of the nativity
Justice & Peace Matters - Reading Laudato Si through the lens of the nativity

By Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Justice & Peace

Pope Francis recently released an Apostolic Letter, Admirable Signum, on the meaning and importance of the Nativity scene on the first Sunday of Advent. He signed the letter in an Italian town called Greccio which was the location where St Francis of Assisi in collaboration with the townsfolk, enacted the first nativity scene in 1223.

St Francis of Assisi is a key figure for Pope Francis. The Pope chose to be named after him and he used some of the words from his Canticle of the Creatures to be the name of Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Laudato Si. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis points out that St Francis of Assisi “shows us how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.” (LS 10) This bond is the basis for what Pope Francis describes as an integral ecology that can “transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.” (LS 11)

Admirable Signum helps us reflect on The Nativity as a powerful example of integral ecology. He observes that “from the time of its Franciscan origins, the nativity scene has invited us to “feel” and “touch” the poverty that God’s Son took upon himself in the Incarnation.”(AS 3) Pope Francis sees the manger as a pivotal sign of solidarity with the poor when he says: “By being born in a manger, God himself launches the only true revolution that can give hope and dignity to the disinherited and the outcast: the revolution of love, the revolution of tenderness.” (AS 6)

The manger also links the baby Jesus with animals as this was a place where they feed. While the biblical accounts of the Nativity don’t explicitly mention the presence of animals, St Francis’ nativity scene in Greccio did have an ox and a donkey. The presence of shepherds and the three wise men adds sheep and camels to the traditional nativity scene. The gifts of the wise men are also the products of plants (myrrh and frankincense) and minerals (gold). The light from a star made from gas and dust crowns the nativity scene with further meaning.

One of the central messages of Laudato Si was that “everything is connected”. The nativity scene tradition started by St Francis reminds us how the first Christmas connected all of creation to worship the infant King.