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In Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis Denounces Societal Excesses

Pope Francis kneels as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 24, 2015.

Pope Francis led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas on Thursday by celebrating a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

In his homily, the pope rebuked what he called society's "intoxication" with consumerism, pleasure, abundance and wealth.

Noting the simplicity of Jesus' birth in a stable, Francis said Jesus "calls us to act soberly — in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential.''

The 79-year-old Argentine pope also used his homily to press some of the key themes of his papacy: mercy, compassion, empathy and justice.

"In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will," he said.

Children from countries that Francis has visited as pontiff, including Sri Lanka, the Philippines, the United States and, most recently, three African nations, left floral bouquets around a statue of the baby Jesus near the central altar after Francis unveiled and gently kissed the statue.

On Friday, tens of thousands of people are expected to crowd into St. Peter's Square to hear Francis deliver the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message.

Christmas already has dawned for people in Asia and the Pacific. Some will go to church; some will relax at home; others will travel for celebrations with family and friends.