Francis rang in his second Christmas as pope

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(CNN) — After an eventful 12-plus months that began with him being named Time’s Person of the Year and ended with his blistering critique of the Vatican bureaucracy, Pope Francis finally got a chance to celebrate — by presiding over Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Mass, typically one of the biggest events on the Roman Catholic calendar, began at 9:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. ET) Wednesday at the Vatican. It was expected to be attended by 8,000 people inside the Basilica, while another 3,000 were expected to follow along on screens set up in St. Peter’s Square. This year a drone outside and various 3-D cameras inside filmed the Mass.

In his homily, Francis said the birth of Jesus Christ showed the patience, closeness and tenderness of God. The pope said that by becoming a human being, “God made himself small to better encounter us.” Francis said people should respond by asking, “Do I allow God to love me?”

Wednesday night’s Mass is followed by the pope’s traditional Christmas Day message “to the city and to the world.”

Pope Francis personally requested a performance of Mozart’s Mass in C minor for the service, according to a Vatican spokesman.

The Israeli soprano Chen Reiss sang “Et Incarnatus Est” from the Mozart Mass. On the Vatican Radio website, Pope Francis said that “Et Incarnatus Est” is “unbeatable and brings you to God.”

Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted the orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome.

It was the second Christmas mass since Francis, who was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, became pontiff.

In his first, the Argentinian preached a message of love and forgiveness while urging people to cast aside hatred.

“Our Father forgives always,” he said last Christmas Eve. “He is our peace and light.”

Since then, Francis has stayed busy and remained an extremely popular, respected figure worldwide. In recent months, for instance, he urged religious tolerance during a visit to Turkey and played a key role in a historic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations.

His conversational tone, warm demeanor and rapport with children and others have continued to win Francis admirers. But he has also garnered critics, including among Catholic conservatives, for his positions — such as a push to make the church more welcoming for gays and lesbians and his proposed solution for divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.

Despite his high position, Francis hasn’t always been successful: Bishops ended a tense, two-week summit in Rome in October without agreeing, for instance, on how to minister to gays and lesbians.

Such pushback hasn’t stopped the Pope’s efforts to change the church, however.

In his annual Christmas address Monday to the Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia, he criticized its members’ “illnesses” ranging from the “disease of feeling immortal” to vainglory and excessive planning.

“Dear brothers, such diseases and such temptations are naturally a danger for each Christian and for each Curia,” the Pope said. “… We have to cure ourselves of these.”

Next week the 78-year-old pontiff will celebrate New Year’s Eve vespers and deliver his 2015 greetings a few hours later.

On Jan. 11, Francis will baptize infants in the Sistine Chapel and a day later board a plane for a weeklong trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

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