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Benedict Prepares for First Christmas as Pope


With just one week to go before Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI told thousands in Saint Peter's Square to prepare to receive Jesus into their lives. But for many of the pilgrims this will be a different Christmas at the Vatican, with a new pope.

Pope Benedict was speaking to thousands gathered under his study window in Saint Peter's Square. It was a chilly day, but there were blue skies and a brilliant sun was shining.

He urged collection and prayer in silence in a world, which he said, is often too noisy and does not favor listening to the word of God. Earlier, the pope visited a Rome parish, saying that the true gift of this festivity is joy and not expensive presents.

Like every year, in the middle of Saint Peter's Square stands a giant fir tree. A life-size nativity scene is covered and will soon be revealed. Everything looks the same as in past years, but this will be a different Christmas at the Vatican.

For the first time in 27 years, the pope who will celebrate midnight mass on December 24 has changed.

Pope Benedict was elected just nine months ago. Many say they are still getting used to new pope and his style and that they miss the Polish pope, John Paul II.

A Colombian student said for him it would be a special Christmas because this is his first visit to the Vatican. He said there is a feeling of novelty, but this pope is still the head of the church and so just as important. But memories of his predecessor, he said, leave us with a feeling of emptiness.

Other youngsters in Saint Peter's Square, who until now had known no other pope, say they miss John Paul and that this Christmas will be different. They say his death and funeral in April affected everyone, and that his last appearance at his study window was a lesson in compassion with all those who are suffering.

Many say it is difficult to get used to someone else, but are quick to add that the new pope's message will not differ from that of his predecessor because both want peace for humanity.

Father Robert Guessetto, an American priest who lives and works in Rome, says that although the faithful miss Pope John Paul, the crowds have been very large lately in Saint Peter's Square, because many are curious to meet the new pope.

"It was a long time and I think people got to admire greatly Pope John Paul II and they knew him and they were accustomed to his way of being with the people and so it is taking a little while to come to know this new pope," he explained. "So it will be different as they come to see his style, but the sense is that it is a style that is attracting a lot of people."

Father Guessetto will be among the millions who will be listening to Pope Benedict's message to the world on Christmas Day. But this Christmas may well be remembered as the Christmas of the two popes, as thousands still line up outside the basilica to pay tribute at the tomb of the Polish pope.

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