May the Lord give you His Peace!
Christmas is fast approaching and our hearts are once again filled with joy. Here, in Bethlehem, the angels proclaim to the shepherds with jubilation in the Holy Night: “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)
As the guardian of the baby Jesus, of the Virgin Mary, His mother, and of St. Joseph, it deeply moves me and fills me with joy to look upon the holy sites and to have the honour of being here. We know that life today is difficult, the future looks gloomy and our hearts weep at times, but … “there is no room for sadness on the day on which life begins.”
What happened in Bethlehem? God became a child, so poor and so small that He could rest peacefully in a manger. It is Jesus, the son of Mary, whom we look upon in the Grotto of Bethlehem: “Here, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.” “We have seen Him with our eyes,” we have “looked upon” Him, “our hands have handled Him,” and “these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” (cf. 1 John 1:1-4)
From Bethlehem, from my home, I wish that on these feast days of Christmas, you may follow the example of St. Francis, who became “a child with the Child” (2 Cel 7,35) each Christmas. Leave a place in your heart for all the children of this world, especially the “innocent children of Bethlehem and its surroundings”, whom the Herod of this day never wearies of trying to obliterate. Faced with the smile of the divine Child, you will today understand the words of Christ even more perfectly, “whoever receives this child in My name receives Me.” (Luke 9:48)
He is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and we ask Him to grant us the peace proclaimed by the angels of Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14) A peace that we on Earth yearn for so deeply. Tell other people of your encounter with the divine Child at Christmas and bear witness to His love! You will experience a miracle: “…for the Child Jesus was indeed sleeping forgotten deep in many hearts until the day when His servant Francis revived His memory and imprinted it indelibly in those hearts.” (1 Cel 30, 86). What use is it to say that God became incarnate from the Virgin Mary “if he is not born in me,” Origen wrote, “if he is not born in my heart again.”
I am in good health. The pilgrims keep me very busy (over a four-month period, I had 123 encounters and about 5,000 pilgrims here). I am happy for them, even though at times they leave me with hardly enough room to breathe. Then there are the other duties I have been entrusted with as the superior of a very large monastery, teaching being only one of many. I hope that the love everyone harbours for Bethlehem and the divine Child will grow ever larger and that the pilgrims will continue to come as they did this year, which was a wonderful year. I am now going to leave you again. May the child of Bethlehem lavish you with mercy! This I ask of the baby Jesus and His mother in the Christmas Grotto when I celebrate Holy Mass there; in these days almost on a daily basis. May the New Year, that we will soon begin, bring you health and joy. And so I wish you and your loved ones:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2019!
Father Artemio, Guardian of the baby Jesus