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Pontiff: Look past 'glitter'

Pope Benedict XVI trumpets Christmas' simple message.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)Read moreAndrew Medichini / AP

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI decried the increasing commercialization of Christmas as he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass, urging the faithful to look beyond the holiday's "superficial glitter" to discover its true meaning.

Benedict, 84, presided over the Saturday night service in a packed St. Peter's Basilica, kicking off an intense two weeks of Christmas-related public appearances that will test his stamina amid signs that fatigue is starting to slow him down.

The Christmas Eve Mass was moved up to 10 p.m. from midnight several years ago to spare the pope a late night that is followed by an important Christmas Day speech. In a new concession this year, Benedict processed down the basilica's central aisle on a moving platform to spare him the long walk.

Benedict appeared tired by the end of the Mass, and a dry cough interrupted his homily.

In his homily, Benedict lamented that Christmas has become an increasingly commercial celebration that obscures the simplicity of the message of Christ's birth.

"Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light," he said.

It was the second time in two days that Benedict has pointed to the need to rediscover faith to confront the problems facing the world. In his end-of-year meeting Thursday with Vatican officials, Benedict said Europe's financial crisis was largely "based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent."

Benedict officially launched Christmas a few hours before the evening Mass, lighting a candle in his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square in a sign of peace, as crowds gathered to witness the unveiling of the Vatican's larger-than-life nativity scene.

Security was tight for the evening Mass, as it has been in recent years. There were no repeats of the 2008 and 2009 Christmas Eve security breaches, in which a woman with a history of psychiatric problems jumped the security barrier along the basilica's central aisle and lunged for the pope.

On Sunday, Benedict will deliver his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" speech - Latin for "to the city and the world" - from the central loggia of St. Peter's overlooking the piazza. Usually, the speech is a survey of sorts of the hardships and wars confronting humanity. He is also due to deliver Christmas greetings in dozens of languages.

Next weekend, he will preside over a New Year's Eve vespers service, followed by a New Year's Day Mass. A few days later he will celebrate Epiphany Mass, followed by his traditional baptizing of babies in the Vatican's frescoed Sistine Chapel.