This morning, as is traditional on the Fridays of Advent and Lent, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, delivered an Advent sermon in the presence of the Holy Father and members of the Roman Curia on the theme “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” He preached in the Redemptoris Mater chapel.

Later in the morning Pope Francis had several private audiences and then a meeting with the donors of the Christmas tree and nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, including delegations from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto, and the patriarch of Venice, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia.

At 4:30 Friday afternoon, members of those delegations and several thousand faithful were in St. Peter’s Square where the Jesolo Sand Nativity scene was unveiled, following which there was the official lighting of the Vatican’s Christmas tree. There was music by the Vatican’s gendarmerie band, songs by choirs from the regions donating the tree and sand sculpture and speeches by various regional and Vatican dignitaries.

EWTN transmits such events live on our Facebook page. Check it out:

I did not make the official ceremony as I’ve been preparing Vatican Insider as well as this column but I’ll go to the piazza shortly to take some photos and perhaps do a Facebook live.

Tomorrow is a very important feast day – feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is a holy day of obligation and a holiday in the Vatican and Italy.


My guest this week on Vatican Insider is one of EWTN’s own in Rome – Ben Crockett – or, as the Register described him in a headline “Meet the Millennial Who Is Taking Virtual Reality to the Front Lines of the Church. California-born, Harvard graduate student pursues his dreams in Rome.”

Ben in Malawi –

Ben is one of the most amiable, talented, hard-working and creative people of the many like people on EWTN’s Rome staff! In the fairly short time he has been with us, he has revolutionized so much in the area of social media, but especially his expertise in VR – virtual reality. You’ve surely seen some of his amazing VR work and maybe did not know he was responsible for it. Well, this weekend you will have the chance to meet this remarkable young man by tuning in to Vatican Insider!

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


The tree and the Nativity Scene tell us about Christmas and “help us to contemplate the mystery of God who was made man in order to be close to each one of us” said Pope Francis Friday morning as he thanked all the people who donated this year’s Sand Nativity Scene and the 23-meter tall ‎Christmas tree for St. Peter’s Square.

A Tree of Light

Pope Francis described how “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.”

The Pope noted, that this year’s tree comes from the forest of Cansiglio in northern Italy, and he went on to explain that its’ height symbolized God “who with the birth of his Son Jesus came down to man in order to raise him to himself and raise him from the mists of selfishness and sin.”

Reflecting on the Nativity Scene which this year is made from Jesolo sand native to the Dolomites, the Pontiff pointed out that, “the sand, a poor material, recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God revealed Himself with the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem.”

The Sand Nativity, symbol of humility and freedom

He went on to tell the donor delegation gathered in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall that, “who is small – in the evangelical sense – is free to express themselves and move with spontaneity. All of us are called to be free before God, to have the freedom of a child before his father. The Child Jesus, Son of God and our Saviour, whom we lay in the manger, is holy in poverty, smallness, simplicity and humility.”

Pope Francis concluded by saying that, “the crib and the tree, fascinating symbols of Christmas, can bring to families and to the places where they are found, a reflection of the light and tenderness of God, to help everyone to live the feast of the birth of Jesus. By contemplating the God Child who shines a light on the humility of the manger, we too can become witnesses of humility, tenderness and goodness.”