Vatican City – A giant nativity scene made out of sand and a Christmas tree were inaugurated on Friday in St Peter’s Square, as part of the Vatican’s seasonal traditions.
Four sculptors known as the “Sultans of Sand,” and coming from the U.S., the Netherlands, Russia and the Czech Republic, made the crib using sand from the Northern Italian beach resort of Jesolo.
The spruce tree, over 20 metres high, was cut from the Cansiglio forest in Northern Italy and donated by the local Italian diocese of Concordia-Pordenone.
“As in previous years, Pope Francis did not take part in the inauguration.
“Instead, he paid a surprise visit to a hostel for ill people and a centre looking after young people with mental health problems, both on the outskirts of Rome,’’ the Vatican said in a statement.
Earlier, the pontiff gave an audience to donors of the tree and nativity scene, during which he described them as “fascinating symbols of Christmas.’’
“The Christmas tree with its lights reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives out the darkness of enmity and makes room for forgiveness.
“Meanwhile the crib’s sand, a poor material, recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God revealed Himself with the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem,’’ Francis noted. (dpa/NAN)