1. ITV Report

Pope says Christmas has been 'taken hostage' by materialism

Pope Francis kissed a statue of baby Jesus at the end of the Christmas night Mass in St Peter's Basilica. Credit: Reuters

Pope Francis has said Christmas has been "taken hostage" by the dazzle of materialism as he made his annual Christmas Eve homily at the Vatican.

He addressed an audience of 10,000 people at St Peter's Basilica for Christmas night Mass amid heightened security after the Berlin market attacker was killed in Italy.

Pope Francis said the world needed more humility after becoming obsessed with gifts, feasting and self-centredness in the festive season.

Pope Francis led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas for the fourth time since his election in 2013. Credit: Reuters

He said "the lights of commerce" put God in the shadows and blinded many to the needs of the hungry, the migrants and the war weary.

In unscripted remarks he added: "This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed."

A Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus headed to the celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Credit: Reuters

Kissing a small statue of the baby Jesus, Pope Francis said: "If we want to celebrate Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the fragile simplicity of a small newborn, the meekness of where he lies, the tender affection of the swaddling clothes."

He said many with wealth needed to be reminded that the Christmas message was one of humility.

Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference.

Today also the same indifference can exist, when Christmas becomes a feast where the protagonists are ourselves, rather than Jesus; when the lights of commerce cast the light of God into the shadows; when we are concerned for gifts, but cold toward those who are marginalised.

– Pope Francis

Outside the basilica, thousands of people who could not get into the largest church in Christendom watched on large screens in the chilly night.

The heightened security in the wake of the Berlin attack saw St Peter's Square cleared six hours before the mass began at the basilica to prepare for the formal entrances to the church.

Many stopped to greet the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa as he made his way through an Israeli checkpoint. Credit: Reuters

Security was also tight in Bethlehem after recent deadly attacks on Christian targets in neighboring Egypt and Jordan by Islamic extremists.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world joined local Christians to celebrate Christmas eve in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Clergymen gathered outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to mark the celebrations. Credit: Reuters

The faithful braved the chilly weather outside the town's Manger Square as traditional Christmas songs like "Jingle Bells" played in Arabic over loudspeakers.

Many wandered through the square, which was illuminated by festive red and golden lights and a large Christmas tree, while visiting souvenir shops and restaurants.