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Lisa M. Hendey interviews Greg Metzger of New City Press about the pope's new book on the spirituality of the Nativity.

As we pray through the weeks of Advent and journey ever nearer to our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, we are honored to share a recent interview with Greg Metzger of New City Press. In our conversation, we discuss Pope Francis's new book Christmas at the Nativity.  


20231214 LHendey Christmas at the Nativity


Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936. He was ordained a priest in 1969 and made a bishop in 1992. He became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was named a cardinal in 2001. In March 2013, he was elected Bishop of Rome, the 266th pope of the Catholic Church. This particular book, now available in English for the first time, tells the story of Christmas through the lens of the different characters of the Nativity scene. As Greg shares, Christmas at the Nativity offers a unique invitation from Pope Francis for each of us to journey to the manger and encounter Christ anew.


Congratulations on the recent publication of Pope Francis's beautiful book Christmas at the Nativity. Please briefly introduce yourself and share your involvement with this book.   

20231214 LHendey Greg MetzgerThank you so much. I work as the Associate Publisher for New City Press and I have had a real appreciation for Pope Francis but we have not until now published a book by him. In my role I helped to oversee the process of the book being edited and given a cover and then printed and presented to the public. And since the author is pretty busy (!) I have been helping in a more direct way with publicity for the book. It’s been an exciting venture, especially since we had to work pretty quickly to have the book ready for Advent and Christmas. 

What approach does Pope Francis take toward sharing the spirituality of the Nativity  

It is a very pastoral and personal approach, and one that emphasizes the humility and the gentleness of a God who comes to us as a child. Pope Francis shares his own stories of visiting the site of Saint Francis's original nativity in Italy, and also of his family making manger scenes in their home growing up. The book is also very biblical and invitational—he is sharing meditations on stories from Scripture and really inviting us to encounter again Jesus in the Nativity like the different characters did when they met Jesus as a baby 2,000 years ago. It’s a spiritually invigorating book I would say. 


Please offer a short history of the Nativity for us.  

800 years ago Saint Francis created what we might call the first “living Nativity” since the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. It happened on Christmas night, 1223, in the town of Greccio in Italy. There was by all accounts a profound sense of awe and wonder as the hay, the ox and the donkey were gathered and the priest, at the manger, celebrated the Eucharist. The tradition that we have today 800 years later of making Nativity scenes really draws from this act of the early Franciscan community to recreate the Bethlehem story that we have in the Gospels.  


Why is this book particularly timely given not only the Christmas season but also the 800th anniversary of the Nativity?   

Pope Francis has a deep devotion to Saint Francis and to the Nativity and it was the Vatican’s strong desire that this book come out in various major languages in time for this 800th anniversary. He sees this anniversary as a way to really invite the world again to the Christ Child, there in all his powerlessness and simplicity in the manger. It is really a stirring call by the Holy Father to keep Christ central to the Christmas season and to use Saint Francis's simple method as a way to help us do that. We are honored to be bringing the English edition to readers around the world. 


How is Pope Francis encouraging Christians to interact with the Nativity as a living Scripture lesson?   

In two ways, really. He is saying Scripture comes alive when we use the physical manger scenes to recreate the scene, we feel the story of Scripture more powerfully when all of our senses are involved. But also when we meditate on these stories and the characters and places that are spoken of in Scripture we become alive and we become in a way a living Scripture lesson to others of the joy—like the shepherds who after encountering the first Nativity and they went and told others with great joy, we begin to do the same.  

What do you hope readers will take from their experience of reading and praying with this book?   

I hope that readers will find great motivation from this book to really use their family Nativity scenes as more than just decoration, but as a unique way to tap into their imaginations and the imaginations of the children they are with and present the Story of Jesus as a very present event, not just something that happened “back then.” In addition to motivating people to use the Nativity creatively, readers of all ages will also find great meditations for themselves that will I think renew them in their vocation as parents. There is a tremendous chapter on the Holy Family that will be particularly helpful I suspect. 


Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share?   

Many people have not yet read a book by Pope Francis—maybe they have read about him but perhaps have felt that a book by a Pope might be beyond them. This is his first Christmas book and a very readable book that presents in down to earth language some of the central insights Pope Francis has for the world.  

Ask for Christmas at the Nativity at your local Catholic bookseller, or order online from Amazon.com.




Copyright 2023 Lisa M. Hendey
Images: Canva
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