By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The first step toward keeping Christ in Christmas is for Christians to make room for him in their hearts, the preacher of the papal household told Pope Francis and top Vatican officials.

“We must do everything we can to keep him obstinately present. Not in order to hide behind him and remain silent about our failures, but because he is ‘the light of the nations,’ the ‘name that is above every other name,’ ‘the cornerstone’ of the world and of history,” Cardinal Cantalamessa said Dec. 22, offering his final Advent meditation of 2023.

The cardinal, a member of the Capuchin Franciscan order, insisted that when St. Francis of Assisi staged the first live Nativity scene in 1223, he did so to illustrate the poverty, simplicity and hardship into which Jesus was born.

“Unfortunately, with the passing of time, the Nativity scene has moved away from what it represented for Francis,” the cardinal said. “It has often become a form of art or entertainment of which one admires the external setting, rather than the mystical meaning.”

Seated in the Vatican audience hall with a tall crucifix on one side of him and a mosaic Nativity scene featuring St. Francis of Assisi behind him, the cardinal said that even if many people do not understand the significance of the crèche, “it would be foolish to give it up.”

“In our Western world, initiatives are multiplying to eliminate every evangelical and religious reference from the Christmas solemnities, reducing it to a pure and simple human and family celebration, with many fairy tales and invented characters in place of the real ones,” he said. “Some would even like to change the name of the feast.”

An important key to keeping the real meaning of the Nativity scene and of Christmas itself is to “set up a different crèche, that of the heart,” Cardinal Cantalamessa said.

“Mary and her husband Joseph continue to mystically knock at the doors, as they did that night in Bethlehem,” he told the pope and Vatican officials. “Let’s open the door of our heart. Let us make it a cradle for the baby Jesus, making him feel, in the chill of the world, the warmth of our love and our infinite gratitude!”