On the first day of Advent on Dec. 1, 2019, Pope Francis traveled to the Italian town of Greccio – where St. Francis of Assisi in the year 1223 created the first nativity scene. Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter on the meaning and importance of nativity scenes, calling this “wonderful sign” to be more widely displayed in family homes and public places throughout the world. His letter said “in front of the crib we discover how important it is for our life, so o&en frenetic, to find moments of silence and prayer, and to behold the beauty of the face of the baby Jesus, the Son of God, born in a lowly stable.” The Pope went on to write “the nativity scene has invited us to ‘feel’ and “touch” the poverty that God’s Son took upon himself in the Incarnation. Pope Francis encouraged parents to share this nativity tradition with their children, and said that one’s childhood memories of the joy and wonder of the nativity help one to recall the “precious gi&” of faith passed down within families. The Pope also gave his approval for children and adults who love to add to the nativity scene other figures that have no apparent connection with the Gospel accounts, as is a common practice in Italy and parts of Latin America. On Dec. 5 the Vatican unveiled this year’s Nativity scene and lit the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square. The 85-foot-tall spruce came from the forests of the Veneto region of northeast Italy. Twenty smaller trees were donated by communities from the same region. Silver and gold balls decorated the spruce and “next generation” LED lights were used on the tree to save energy and reduce the impact on the environment. The large Nativity, made entirely of wood, came from the province of Trento, Italy. There are traditional Trentino-style buildings and twenty-three life-size wooden figures representing everyday life in a small rural Trento village in the 19th century. There were people making cheese and washing clothes, and a lumberjack pulling a sled full of wood. There was also a man carrying his belongings as he came to the manger, representing the plight of immigrants and refugees. Some of the carved faces of the figures were of real shepherds, including one who unfortunately had recently died in an accident. Some of the clothes on the figures were real and had been handed down through the generations. Part of the nativity scene included broken tree trunks and limbs from trees damaged in that region in 2018 by severe storms. They were a reminder of the destruction that can occur if humanity does not combat climate change. This year’s Vatican Christmas concert will be on Saturday Dec. 14 in the Paul VI Hall. The musical stars to sing for Pope Francis will be Susan Boyle, Lionel Richie and Bonnie Tyler along with a number of Italian musicians and the Vatican Police Band. Susan Boyle, a devout Catholic, and a “Britain’s Got Talent” star, said she is “truly blessed” to be part of the concert and “singing for Pope Francis at the Vatican is beyond my wildest dreams.” She noted that the proceeds from the concert will go to “a very worthwhile cause”, helping the Amazon rainforest and supporting the indigenous communities there.