I was walking through St. Peter's Square this cold December evening, and I ran into two old friends. We were all in front of the manger scene by the obelisk in the middle of the square.
This is what we saw:
"What do you think of the manger scene?" I asked.
"Terrible," one said. "The idea of depicting seven scenes showing acts of corporal mercy may have been a valid idea, but the execution of it is quite disturbing. I have never seen any manger scene quite like this one. The depiction of the naked man being clothed in an act of charity overpowers every other aspect of the manger scene, including the figures of Mary and Joseph themselves, and the hidden manger where Jesus will be laid on Christmas morning, in five days time. I do not like it at all."
I took pictures of the manger scene with my Iphone.
Here is what my friend was referring to: a naked man, with only a wisp of cloth over his private parts, illustrating the work of corporal mercy of "clothing the naked."
"But this is not the thing that most concerns us," the second person said. "We are concerned about the decorations on the Christmas tree from Poland. We have not seen a single religious symbol, not a single Christian symbol, on the tree."
"Really?" I said. "Let's look at it."
So we walked around the tree.
And I too saw that there seemed not to be a single Christian symbol on the tree, unless the star on the top of the tree could be considered a sign of the star that led the Magi to the Christ-child.
"Look," said my friend. "There are peace signs, and the oriental yin-yang signs, but no angels, no depictions of the Magi, no images of Mary, nothing but universal symbols. Many nuns in Rome say they are shocked and are very worried about the message these decorations are sending to the youngest. I wish I knew the Pope's secretaries to tell them to tell the Pope what is on the Square, if really the Holy Father wants to go and to bless such things. The worst thing for all these sponsors would be for the Pope not to come to the Square on December 31."
Here is a poor Iphone photo showing one of the yin-yang images on the tree:
"What has happened to us?" my other friend said. "What is our message? Where is Christ? There are no longer Christian signs on the Christmas tree! Really, we find Nativity scene this year just scandalous. What we are teaching our children? I feel sorry that people may think the Pope agrees with this."
In past years, they said, the Christmas tree was decorated with brilliant white and yellow balls, the Vatican colors.
The two said they had written a letter to the Government of Vatican City, protesting the decorations on the Christmas tree.
Robert Moynihan PhD publishes Inside the Vatican.