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Francis prepares to celebrate first Christmas as pope


Pope Francis marks his first Christmas as leader of the world's Roman Catholics on Tuesday and Wednesday, with crowds of pilgrims expected to attend the annual celebrations in the Vatican.

"Like the Virgin Mary, the Church this week is expecting a birth," the pope said on Monday in the homily at one of his daily masses in the Vatican residence, where he has been staying since his election in March.

"Is there space for the Lord or is there space only for parties, shopping and making noise?" he asked.

The Christmas festivities begin with the unveiling on St Peter's Square of a traditional Nativity scene named in honour of Latin America's first ever pontiff at 1530 GMT.

The 77-year-old Francis is expected to watch the ceremony from the window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking the square and light a candle for peace.

Then from 2030 GMT the Argentine will celebrate the solemn Christmas Vigil mass in St Peter's Basilica.

On Wednesday, Francis delivers the "Urbi et Orbi" ("To the City and the World") blessing at 1130 GMT on St Peter's Square -- where he first appeared after his momentous election by fellow cardinals on March 13.

Popes often use their "Urbi et Orbi" blessings to announce specific prayers, for instance, for the victims of conflicts or for global economic justice.