As we prepare for Christmas at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, we have many special traditions. The Basilica is decorated with more than 50 Christmas trees (some as tall as 15 feet!), 500 poinsettias, and 65,000 brilliant lights inside and out, as well as two manger scenes, one of which is nearly life size. However, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Basilica is filled with not just two, but hundreds of baby Jesus figures on the occasion of the Blessing of the Bambinelli.
The Origin of the Tradition
A beloved annual tradition at the Basilica in preparation for Christmas, the Blessing of the Bambinelli was first instituted by St. John Paul II. On the Third Sunday of Advent, the children of Rome are encouraged to bring the baby Jesus (Bambinelli) from each of their Nativity sets to St. Peter’s Square. Following the Sunday Angelus address, the Pope blesses the figurines.
Now celebrated in other churches around the world, this Advent tradition is a way for children to connect their Nativity scene at home to the celebration of Christmas at their church. At the Basilica, it is observed on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
A Blessing from Pope Benedict XVI
As Pope Benedict XVI prayed during the 2008 Blessing:
God, our Father
you so loved humankind
that you sent us your only Son Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.
We pray that with your Blessing
these images of Jesus,
who is about to come among us,
may be a sign of your presence and
love in our homes.
give your Blessing to us too,
to our parents, to our families and
to our friends.
Open our hearts,
so that we may be able to
receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks
and see him in all those
who are in need of our love.
We ask you this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son
who comes to give the world peace.
He lives and reigns forever and ever.
The Blessing of the Bambinelli at the Basilica – December 22
On Sunday, December 22, following the 4:30 p.m.celebration of Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, join us at the Basilica for the Blessing of the Bambinelli. The faithful are invited to bring the Baby Jesus figurines from their home Nativity sets to the Basilica for this special blessing. In addition to the Blessing of the Bambinelli, the Basilica will also bless and light its Christmas Tree located outside the Crypt Church.