I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas and New Year’s in the States with family and friends, the first Christmas at home in a few years. There is little news today from the Vatican (more time to pack!) so my sole offering is a Christmas reflection called “One Solitary Life” – I know you will be moved beyond telling.

I have prepared a Christmas special for “Vatican Insider” this coming weekend. and be sure to also tune in to “At Home with Jim and Joy” when I bring some news and specials from Rome.

Before I forget, abundant and heartfelt thanks for the avalanche of beautiful messages and emails about my investiture as a Lady of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. More than anything, I wish I could have responded individually but you are in my heart and my prayers!

May your Christmas be beautiful and blessed! May you find new meaning in the birth of Our Lord and Savior and His eternal presence among us, and may the New Year enrich the gifts of Faith, Hope and Love and, especially this Jubilee Year, mercy! May God sit on your shoulder now and throughout the New Year!

I took the photo you see in “One Solitary Life” at a church in Beit Sahour, a small Palestinian town east of Bethlehem, at what is known as Shepherd’s Field – where an Angel appeared to the Shepherds to announce the birth of Christ. When I was on a pilgrimage here, we had Mass in what is known as the shepherds cave. The Franciscans acquired a shrine there in 1347. Here are two other photos from the Shepherds Field church.

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These pictures were taken in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The last two show an area beneath an altar: the star you see is placed above the spot where tradition says Baby Jesus was born and laid in the manger.

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This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. I heard this for the first time a number of years ago when Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums:

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“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.

“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”