December 18, 2005

Pope decries commercialization of Christmas

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict urged Roman Catholics on
Sunday not to commercialize Christmas, saying joy -- not
expensive objects -- was the real gift of the season.

The 78-year-old Pope, apparently suffering from a sore
throat, made his comments in an impromptu sermon during a visit
to a parish in a densely populated neighborhood on the
outskirts of Rome.

"Joy is the real gift of Christmas -- not expensive gifts
that only cost time and money -- but joy," he said, speaking in
a hoarse voice.

"It is joy that should be communicated. We can communicate
joy in a simple way, with a smile, a gesture," he said.

The congregation in the packed church broke into applause.

The German Pope, who will mark his first Christmas as Roman
Catholic leader later this week, discarded his prepared text
and delivered the entire sermon off the cuff.

It was the second time in as many weeks that the Pope
warned against rampant materialism at Christmas. Earlier this
month he said commercial "pollution" was ruining the spirit of

In his improvised sermon, the Pope also told the faithful
to remember that God was the "only insurance" to help people
deal with sickness, loneliness and death. "Only one insurance
protects us. Only the Lord, and he tells us not to be afraid,"
he said.

He told the congregation, which packed the church and
filled a small square outside on a cold Rome morning, that his
visit was "a return home" because he had been assigned the
parish as his titular church when he was first made a cardinal
in 1977.

All cardinals around the world are assigned a titular
church in Rome as a symbol of their unity with the Pope. The
former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was based in Munich at the

On Saturday, the Pope will lead the world's 1.1 billion
Roman Catholics into Christmas with a Christmas eve midnight
mass in St Peter's Basilica.

On Christmas Day, he will deliver his first "Urbi et Orbi
(to the city and the world) Christmas message and blessing from
the same central balcony of St Peter's where he first appeared
to the world as Pope minutes after his election last April.