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Pope Francis' First Christmas Mass

Aired December 24, 2013 - 18:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A historic Christmas eve in the Vatican. The papal procession honoring St. Peter's Basilica where Pope Francis celebrates his first Christmas mass as world's more than one billion Roman Catholics.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Brianna Keilar and this is a CNN special, "Pope Francis's First Christmas."

It is just past midnight at the Vatican where the Pope's mass has just ended. And we're also watching the midnight mass at the church of the nativity in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

Over the next hour, we'll see the Pope lead the mass, including his much anticipated homily.

What is Pope Francis' message to the world on his first Christmas as pontiff?

We'll also look at what has made him the first nine months of his papacy so remarkable and him so popular and in some cases controversial.

Let's get more now with CNN religion commentator Reverend Edward Beck in New York as well as Reverend David O'Connell, bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey and former president of the Catholic University of America. Father O'Connell, can you lay out for us what we can expect from the Pope at this mass?

DAVID O'CONNELL, BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF TRENTON, NEW JERSEY: Well, I think just judging from his public celebrations up to the present time, I think a simpler approach will be evident in his style. The Pope doesn't sing himself and so we won't hear him sing, I think his homilies have usually been a little bit shorter, so we'll probably have a more concise presentation in his homily tonight.

KEILAR: Yes, and that's certainly I think one of the messages, and we heard this yesterday from him as well talking about simplicity and focusing I think as we're watching the processional here I should say he's focused more on simplicity, he's - and less on sort of I guess the material aspects of Christmas. What do you think, Father Beck, how do you expect this to be different than past years?

REV. EDWARD L. BECK, CNN RELIGIOUS COMMENTATOR: Well one difference maybe, Brianna, is remember with Pope Benedict he was infirmed toward the end and couldn't even walk down that center aisle that we're seeing. He was on a platform and was pulled down. And even though Pope Francis just turned 77 years old and only has one lung, he as you can see, is going to walk up and down that aisle and he's going to give it all the gusto I think that he can. What we will see though is he's a rather quiet presider I think. I noticed in Brazil when he was there for World Youth Day, there's not a lot of exuberance and a lot of gesticulation or anything when he presides. But it's a very quiet, prayerful, humble kind of presiding as you might expect from this man.

KEILAR: And sometimes this is referred to as the midnight mass, but actually it's something that takes place at 9:30. I understand as well, Father O'Connell, that the Pope doesn't actually like to stay up late. So this is sort of him I guess staying up late for a pretty good reason, I guess you could say, right?

O'CONNELL: Sure, it's a good reason. You know, in fact here in the Diocese of Trenton, I've changed the time of the mass too. I moved it down to 10 o'clock tonight. I figured if the Pope can do it, I can do it too.

KEILAR: And actually I think we may be listening - or this is the Pope that we can see here in this processional. Talk to us a little bit, Father Beck, about the Basilica. There's obviously a lot of people watching who are not Catholic. This is a pope who's - I think - stirred a lot of curiosity among people, not just in his own faith but all over the world. And there are people paying attention I think to what's going on that maybe wouldn't be. I mean, he's the number one person of the year for "Time Magazine." Tell us a little bit about the setting here - St. Peter's Basilica.

BECK: Well, it took over one hundred years to build, so that tells you something right there. It was built in the 1600s and it's huge. If you've ever been in there, and you look up, you certainly feel the grandeur of the Catholic Church in that space. It's built over the tomb of St. Peter, believed to be where St. Peter is buried. It is not the cathedral per se of the Pope, but is a very important church in Christendom because of its historical significance.

KEILAR: And, Father O'Connell, tell us a little bit about what the processional means and then who are these folks who are watching this? Are these pilgrims, are these - I guess there are many people watching. It seems to be standing room only. How do they get in I guess? Is it a ticketed process, is it a first-come, first served process? How do they do that?

O'CONNELL: Actually the - any ceremony, any papal ceremony is generally jammed in St. Peter's Basilica. And it is ticketed and the people asked to - some are invited and some apply for tickets beforehand to be part of the beautiful ceremony. And this procession really represents the movement of the faithful, of the believer into a very significant and important event - and that is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Pope is the shepherd, he's our spiritual father, he's our leader and he represents that - all of those gifts and all of those responsibilities as he comes with the cardinals and the bishops into St. Peter's Basilica to celebrate. KEILAR: And there's - I mean, you're seeing flash photography. This is obviously a - you might not actually - I didn't actually expect that to happen, but you're seeing a lot of people take photos. Obviously this would be a tremendous moment for many of the people who are able to see this process. Father Beck, this isn't the only thing that the Pope has done today. He actually began his day by meeting with now Pope Emeritus as he's called - Benedict. They greeted each other, they prayed together. That's extraordinarily unusual, isn't it?

BECK: It is, because certainly in our lifetime we've never seen it where two popes are living at the same time. And of course we know that they have a good relationship. We know there's a tremendous amount of respect that Pope Francis has for Pope Emeritus Benedict. And someone asked me, "Do you think we'll see Pope Benedict maybe at the Christmas Eve Mass? Would he possibly come celebrate?" And I said, "I don't think so. I don't think he would want to be there and take the focus at all away from Pope Francis for this first Christmas Eve Mass."

KEILAR: And we're watching them greet each other earlier to today as Pope Francis paid a visit and he was welcomed and they did pray together. When you look at this, Father O'Connell -- the procession that's going on and the fact that a lot of people are tuning in - I know that this was live-streamed, this isn't the only event, we'll be seeing events tomorrow - New Year's Eve, January 6th. Do you think more people are paying attention this holiday season than they did in past years?

O'CONNELL: Well, I think more people are paying attention to the Pope than in previous years as the polls that were referred to earlier in the broadcast indicate, there's a great love and a great admiration and fascination really with Pope Francis that probably didn't exist as much in the past. The fact that the two popes as Father Beck indicated is the first time in our lifetime - it's probably the first time in history going back to earlier resignations of a pope where actually the two popes were on friendly terms and living in close proximity to one another Pope Francis has a great love and a great admiration for Pope Benedict, and that was very clearly evident in the way that they greeted each other.

KEILAR: All right, Father O'Connell, Father Beck, we're going to just watch and listen at this procession comes to an end there for the beginning of the mass in Vatican City.

And still ahead, we'll be talking about the homily. What is the new pope's message to the world in this his first Christmas Mass. Our coverage continues right after this.



KEILAR: Welcome back now to our CNN special - "Pope Francis: First Christmas." We're watching him celebrate his first Christmas Mass inside of St. Peter's Basilica, packed with thousands of people standing room only there - thousands more are filling St. Peter's Square outside. Music of course is a big part of this mass, the choirs providing a rich backdrop of ancient hymns and (inaudible). Let's listen for a moment.


KEILAR: And we were also watching the midnight mass in Bethlehem held in the Church of the Nativity where the parishioners are taking part in communion. The Church of the Nativity is built over what's considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. This is a service that usually draws tens of thousands of people to the town. Let's listen in there.


KEILAR: Now, Pope Francis has been compared to a rock star for his soaring popularity, and the reason that he appeals to so many Catholics and non-Catholics alike is his style - humble, personal, warm and compassionate. But all the while he's bringing dramatic change to the Vatican, change that's not welcome by everyone. Here's CNN's Becky Anderson.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: His papacy is being hailed by many as a fresh start for a troubled Catholic Church, so much so that "Time Magazine" named him person of the year for 2013.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a kind of rock star quality to this man. A sense of a new day dawning, you know, wherever he goes.

ANDERSON: His demeanor, style and words have gathered attention the world over.

POPE FRANCIS: If a person is gay and accepts the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People listening and looking are seeing a different atmosphere, a different attitude here.

ANDERSON: Just months into his tenure as the 266th Pontiff, this Pope Francis the man who changed attitudes and galvanized hundreds of millions of Catholics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no doubt that he is the (inaudible) to get it done.

ANDERSON: He's reaching out, calling for sweeping changes in the Church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The stakes are different now. I mean, he is no longer an archbishop of a major city, he's the Pope of the entire Catholic Church.

ANDERSON: The Pope also amazed people around the world when he embraced a disfigured man at the Vatican. UNIDENTIFIED MALE, VIA TRANSLATOR: When he embraced me, I quivered. I felt a great warmth.

ANDERSON: (Fans) getting close to his flock is natural for Pope Francis. In his first international trip to Brazil as Pope, he captivated millions and also sent shockwaves around the world.


KEILAR: We are back now with CNN religion commentator Reverend Edward Beck in New York, Reverend David O'Connell, bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey and CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen as well. If we can actually start with John. I have a question - actually, John will be joining us in just a moment. But let me ask you first, Father Beck, you know one of the things I think that all people strive for, and perhaps this is why the new Pope strikes such a chord with people - people want to be accepted.

And so I think when you look at that picture of him kissing and blessing that disfigured man, a man who has neurofibromatosis, and obviously this is man who has dealt in his life with people staring at him and judging him for something he has no control over. But to have this moment with the Pope says something to him and it says so much I think to the people who are watching. Is that really one of the most important things that the Pope is bringing is a sense of inclusivity?

BECK: I think that's definitely true, Brianna. What struck me is that he didn't even hesitate. I mean, you see someone like that and the natural instinct perhaps is to shrink back. He moved toward him, put his face next to his. And it was so Christ-like, it reminded me of Jesus with the lepers. I mean, extending himself to those who maybe nobody else wants to go to.

And we knew from the very start I think that this was going to be the kind of pope he would be. When he was elected, I was very struck. He said he was terror-stricken when he was elected. And a cardinal friend of his sitting next to him - Cardinal Hummes who is from Brazil, he leaned over to me, kissed him and he said, "Jorge, do not forget the poor." And he said at that moment, he sensed what his mention would be - to the poor, to the outcast, to the one on the fringe. From the very conception of that papacy, this has been his mission. And he's just done it time and time again. On the plane with the press conference, reaching out to gay people, saying to women 'you need to have a place in this church and I'm going to expand that role of inclusivity for women. He's just done it time and time again, so I think you're absolutely correct. Inclusivity and reaching out those on the fringe and saying, 'You're OK, you're part of us, we want you in this big tent.'

KEILAR: And Father O'Connell, how much would you say that Pope Francis has changed the Church - not only that, how much did the Church need some changing?

O'CONNELL: Well, I think right from the beginning, the very choice of a name when he chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, a name that had never been chosen for a pope before, indicated or gave an indication of maybe what his prism would be - how he would look at the Church, how he would look at the people of God, how he would look at the world, and I think that's a just a beautiful thing. And I think Father Beck is very right when he says this Pope has been incredibly warm and incredibly welcoming. You see it just as he moves around, the love that he has for the people that he is with or who come to him. And the look of expectation and hope and love that they return to him, it's a beautiful thing to see.

KEILAR: And one of the things -

O'CONNELL: I think more than though just style - there's more than just style here. This is the man, this is his heart, and this is what he is sharing with the world.

KEILAR: You think it isn't just style, it is the substance and I think that's something that a lot of people have been captured by in a way. It's because it seems that every time there's a moment, whether it's that he is blessing that man - you see sort of another moment come along right after that. For instance, he washed the feet of two young Muslims as well as two young women. I believe this was actually at a youth prison. How unprecedented is that, Father Beck?

BECK: Well, Brianna, you have to remember that in many dioceses, for as long as I can remember, only men were allowed to have their feet washed. And the idea was that the Apostles - the first 12 Apostles - were men, and so the Christ is, the priest in that role of Christ at the last supper mass, would wash the feet of men. Now, that has not always been uniformly true. Some dioceses have washed women's feet as well. I've never seen a pope do it, and the Bishop can correct me if I'm wrong on this.

So when he went to that prison - a youth prison - and he knelt down and as you say, not only washed the feet of women but of Muslims. I mean, some people were horrified by it, some people really did not like the fact that he did that. But again, what it said to me was this man wants to include everyone. This is an act of service. His service is for the world community - that includes everyone. He's reached out even to atheists and he has said, 'Look, if it's according to your conscience that you do not believe, I can only support you. You have to go according to your conscience.' When was the last time you would think a pope would tell an atheist 'you're OK' if that's what your conscience is telling you to do and believe?

KEILAR: But, no, to that point, Father O'Connell, I mean, these - some of these - moments and some of these thoughts I think well they certainly touch people, bring them in, get them to listen. They might make a lot of people uncomfortable. Why are some people uncomfortable with that, and why do some people think that perhaps it might be too much for the Catholic Church?

O'CONNELL: Well, if you want to stay with the symbolism of the washing of the feet, the rubrics of the liturgy call for 12 men as Father Beck mentioned - the symbolism there is Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles and so he followed - the Church follows that tradition. But the Pope certainly has the freedom to expand that beyond what the rubric says. He is the chief legislator, the chief rule maker of the Church, including being, and in addition to being the shepherd - chief shepherd and the chief teacher in the Church. And I think there is a lesson that he's trying to offer to us. Some people don't like it. Some people who are more strict rubricists or who want to stay with the tradition as it has always been. But this is clearly a Pope who is trying to expand tradition. Not do away with tradition, but try to expand it.

One of the things that I heard recently or read recently when some of the cardinals were asked what was it about Archbishop Bergoglio that kind of pushed him forward as their candidate? And Cardinal (George) of Chicago said it was the fact that Archbishop Bergoglio had freedom and he exuded a sense of freedom that he was not restricted or bound to any ideology or any particular point of view. He is a faithful priest, a faithful bishop who loved the Church and desired with all his heart to serve it. And that came across very clearly to the cardinals who elected him, and it's certainly coming across clearly to all the world - not only to Catholics but to everyone.

KEILAR: Father O'Connell, Father Beck, we will be right back with you, but ahead, the Pope's Christmas sermon. It's very much in line with the message of his papacy - concern for the outcast and looking for the good in people as well as the bad. We'll hear his entire sermon next.



KEILAR: Welcome back to CNN. We are watching the Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican. Pope Francis' first Christmas as Pope. And I'd like to bring in Bishop O'Connell and Father Beck who have been joining me throughout this special. We're going to watch a little bit of what we are - what I guess -- the process of this mass. But can you explain, Bishop O'Connell, what is it that we're watching here?

O'CONNELL: The Pope is blessing the congregation with a book of the Gospels, and the Gospels are in our belief, in our conviction, the very words of Christ. And so there's a great deal of reverence that is paid. If you notice, the Pope kissed the book before he handed it back to the Deacons, and that's the sense - this is - we say, this is the Word of the Lord. This is the Gospel of the Lord after the readings. And that's what he's doing - he's taking that Word and he's kissing and showing reverence and then he's using that Word, lifting that Word up and blessing the people with it. That book is a very symbolic and important thing in the liturgy.

KEILAR: And, Father Beck, what - the people who are in the Church - who are in St. Peter's Basilica - what are they waiting for? What is the key moment of this mass?

BECK: Well, as you can see there, Brianna, they've just put that Gospel book which is a reproduction of a 15th century Book of Gospels right by the Baby Jesus that was carried in. So that is the prelude the reading of the Gospel, and the Deacon has read the Gospel, and then Pope Francis will deliver the homily. So in his own words now, Pope Francis will give his Christmas message based on the scripture and what message he wants for the world this Christmas Eve. And so those gathered - really if there's anything extemporaneous about this service that wouldn't be a rote prayer, it is Pope Francis' homily which happens after the reading of the Gospel.

KEILAR: And we're of course going to be waiting for that. He'll be doing - he'll be speaking in Italian and it will be translated in English. Let's listen in.

POPE FRANCIS, VIA TRANSLATOR: -- walked in darkness, have seen a great light. Prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us especially when we hear it proclaimed Christmas night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are, of people who walk. And all around us and within us as well. He judges darkness and light. In this night is the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, the event which always amazes and surprises us. The people who walk see a great light, a light which makes us reflect on this mystery -- the mystery of walking and seeing, walking.

The Spirit makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith whom the Lord called one to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which He would show him.

From that time on, our identity as believers has been (inaudible) making its pilgrim way toward the promised land.

This history has always been accompanied by the Lord. He is ever faithful to His covenant and His promises.

God is light, and in him there is no darkness. Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience and rebellion, times of being a pilgrim --

KEILAR: Bishop O'Connell (ph), he's talking about bright and dark moments, obviously trying to communicate to people who, you know, maybe certainly having difficulty in their life as well as perhaps enjoying the holiday season.

What do you take away from his homily?

REVEREND DAVID O'CONNELL, BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF TRENTON, NEW JERSEY: Well, the purpose of the homily is really to break open the word of God for the understanding of all those who have just heard it.

And what he's doing is he's taking each of the readings. This is a very brief homily. He's taken the first reading from the book of the prophet of Isaiah, the second from St. Paul's letter to Titus and the third from St. Luke, and he's contrasting darkness and light as it's presented in all of those readings.

Remember that Isaiah wrote and prophesied 800 years before Christ. We speak of the gospels as the Word of the lord. We speak of Jesus as the Word made flesh. The two become one and the same on this feast of Christmas. The Word becomes flesh and dwelt among us. He's talking about how the Word brings light to all of those who suffer, to all of those who walk in darkness.

We need the light and cries brings the light to us.

KEILAR: One of the lines that caught my ear. He says, if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.

He said, whoever hates his brother, writes the Apostle John, is in the darkness.

Sounds like he's saying, you know, that we should not hate those who sin or are adrift, because in a way, everyone is.

It really does seem as if he's putting a message out there not just to Catholics but beyond that.

Do you think that's right?

REVEREND EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think that's very right. I think he is challenging our consciousness and the conscience of the world community.

So he's using this light and darkness. He says the darkness in our lives is pride, self-seeking, selfishness.

Now, this is a pope who recently in his apostolic exhortation, "Joy of the Gospel," critiqued global capitalism.

He said it's really a selfish construct where you have so little with so many -- so few with so much and so many with so little, and that you need to figure out how you're going to care for the needy in your midst.

That's part of the darkness he would see in the world.

Remember, this is the same pope who is very much against any kind of attack in Syria by the United States. He went directly to President Putin, wrote a letter and said, I am opposed to this. Do everything you can with the leaders there to avoid this.

And then he had a whole day of prayer for peace, for the situation in Syria, so you see, he's a pope who's very comfortable playing on the world stage and getting involved in these issues as well.

And he's going to use this homily and has. I think it's interesting. He said Jesus, love incarnate, pitched his tent in our midst.

So God becomes one with us. But the challenge is, how do we become one with God? How do we reciprocate now that God has come among us?

KEILAR: And let's listen to a little more of the homily.

POPE FRANCIS (via translator): You are immense, and you made yourself small. You are rich, and you made yourself poor. You are all powerful, and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night, let us share the joy of the gospel. God loves us. He so loves us that he gave us His Son to be our brother.

KEILAR: And our CNN special, POPE FRANCIS' FIRST CHRISTMAS MASS, continues right after this.


KEILAR: Welcome back to our special coverage, POPE FRANCIS' FIRST CHRISTMAS MASS.

For Pope Francis, the road to this Christmas Eve began almost half a century ago. CNN's Becky Anderson looks at the path that he took to become the leader of the world's Catholics at this momentous event.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Francis' journey to the papacy goes back to 1969 when he was ordained as a Jesuit priest.

He became archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. His hallmark was service and humility.

Pope John Paul II appointed him a cardinal, and after more than a decade, on March the 13th, 2013, he was elected to lead the world's estimated 1.2 billion Catholics and installed as pope six days later.

CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, FORMER ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: This is the greatness of the man, I think, that he knows who he is. He knows what his responsibility is.

ANDERSON: This cardinal is the former archbishop in Washington, D.C. he says he is handling the job well.

MCCARRICK: It doesn't crush him, because he knows he's going to carry it with Jesus. And he knows the people are out there, and his job is to help them.

ANDERSON: Becoming pope was only one of many significant firsts for the new pontiff.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: He is the first pope from Latin America. The first pope from outside Europe in 1,300 years. And of course he is the first pope to utter the word "gay."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we have the first Jesuit pope. It seems kind of strange that a pope would be a Jesuit, because the Jesuits take a vow to do what the pope tells them.

ANDERSON: But even more stunning to many was the name he chose.

Rita Ferrone is a life-long Catholic and a writer for the U.S. Catholic magazine, "Commonweal."

RITA FERRONE, "COMMONWEAL" MAGAZINE: First pope to be named after Francis of Assisi.

Francis of Assisi was a rebel and someone deeply committed to the poor and to prayer and a kind of radical vision of living out Christianity.

This is the first pope to take that name, and it's not an accident.

ALLEN: And it is perhaps, after Jesus and Peter and maybe Mary, the most iconic name in the Catholic imagination, because it used to be believed that no pope could take the name Francis, because there was only one Francis.

And the fact that this pope did it told me two things right away. One, that this was going to be a maverick pope, a guy who was not going to be shackled by convention, and two, it told me that this is going to be a very Franciscan pope, somebody before all else was going to embrace laity poverty, the lover of St. Francis.


KEILAR: And a message of love and forgiveness from Pope Francis at his first Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican.

As we watch Pope Francis offer his first Christmas communion, let's bring back CNN religious commentator Reverend Edward Beck in New York, Reverend David O'Connell, bishop of the diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, and former president of the Catholic University of America, as well as CNN Vatican analyst John Allen.

So, John, before I ask you a quick question, let's watch communion for a moment.

POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking in foreign language)

KEILAR: John, can you talk a little bit about what Pope Francis has provided the Catholic Church that it certainly needed coming off of, you know, years of fallout from the sex abuse scandal?

He's really sort of turned things around, just in the course of really a few years.

ALLEN: Well, Brianna, in the course of nine months, actually.

If you want me to put it into a sound bite into what he's provided the Catholic Church, it's a new lease on life.

Nine months ago, there were stories about the sex abuse, and financial scandals and on and on.

While none of those things have gone away, today the dominant narrative of the world about the Catholic Church is this humble, simple pope, a pope of the people and pope of the poor has given Catholics, 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, a new sense of possibility.

You know, when we talk about the "Francis revolution," I would say that's the revolution in action. KEILAR: And you have actually called him a rock star. Why is that?

ALLEN: Well, look, Brianna, I mean, I was in Rio de Janeiro when he brought 3 million people to the beach, shattering the previous attendance record held by The Rolling Stones, by the way.

I was there when he pulled up to the cathedral in Rio and a group of Latin-American nuns rushed him, shrieking like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

This isn't just another pop culture icon, but it's a man who, because of his own sincerity and integrity, I think, has become one of the towering moral authorities on the global stage.

And it's not just about his office. It's about Francis himself and the perception that this is a leader who walks his own talk.

KEILAR: Yes, and to that point, Bishop O'Connell, as you look into the background of Pope Francis, you start to learn some pretty fascinating and unexpected things about him.

For instance, he was, I read he was a bouncer in his younger years when he was in Buenos Aires. He worked at shelter, at youth shelters in the slums there.

What do you think that sort of brings for him? How does that inform his service as pope?

O'CONNELL: I think we're all creatures of our own experience.

And the fact that he performed these common tasks and he performed them with diligence and with seriousness fed what grew in the pope.

And that was a sense of the people of God, a sense of the people with whom he would work as a priest and later as a bishop and certainly now as pope.

You know, when I watch him at mass, there, he's not distracted. He's not looking around. There's a quiet, prayerful intensity about him, as he speaks and preaches.

He gives the homily of the mass. There's nothing dramatic about his presentation at all. It's gentle. It's calm. It's forthright, and it comes from the heart.

And he's showing that tonight as he preaches and celebrates the mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

KEILAR: And that's interesting you say that because I want to ask you this, Father Beck.

One of the things that the pope is talking about, and I think it's sort of a message that goes far beyond Catholicism. A lot of people can connect with it.

He talks, if he's talking, sort of, I guess, showing quietness in the mass as we heard Bishop O'Connell say.

One of his messages for Christmas is to tone down the noise. Concentrate really on what matters, not on the partying, not on the spending.

That's something that I think a lot of Americans, I will say, struggle with. That's something that really connects.

BECK: Yes. I know that Pope Francis knows that we live in a very distracted world and society.

For all the great technology that we have, it's really hard simply to focus on what matters, and he's imploring us to do just that, to focus on what matters.

And lest we think that Pope Francis is just about image, he's also done some rather remarkable things in these nine months that are really substantive.

If you look about the Vatican bank, the much beleaguered Vatican bank, for all of those years. So suddenly with Pope Francis, he revamps it. We get the first financial statement, public financial statement, transparent financial statement, from the Vatican bank.

He call the other commission for sex abuse. Everybody was saying not enough was done from the top with the sex-abuse scandal. He calls a commission, including lay people, and they're going to address the sex abuse scandal in ways that it has not yet been addressed.

He picked eight cardinal advisers, the "Gang of Eight," as they're known who met once. They're going to meet again in October, and they're going to talk about marriage and family.

So this is an important issue because divorced and remarried people cannot receive communion. Pope Francis has hinted, we have to talk about this. There is a lot of alienation and hurt over divorce and remarriage.

So these are very ordinary, down-to-earth, substantive issues in the lives of real people and Francis is tackling them.

KEILAR: And, John, what do you think about this? Is there a possibility in a way -- this is reason why so many people have such a positive opinion of the pope.

But there are still other people who feel that perhaps the movement is too fast. Is there any risk, John, do you think, of some whiplash, that he's moving too quickly?

Or is it really that, as you look at this, having studied the Vatican all these years, that it's about time that the Catholic Church moved along?

ALLEN: Well, look. I think, Brianna, change, whether it's change in politics or in the economy or, in this case, in religion, change is always going to be unsettling to some. If you look at the reactions that Francis has generated over the last nine months, there certainly would be some conservative sectors in the church who worry that it is too much, too fast.

But for every one of those folks, there is probably someone on the Catholic left that think he is not going nearly fast or nearly far enough.

But the truth of it is, if we look around, every place in the world where public opinion can be scientifically measured, including in the United States, he has overwhelming approval ratings, not only from the wider world but also from the Catholic grassroots.

So, I think what he accomplished over these first nine months, both in terms of his gestures and, as Father Ed was ticking off, some of his substantive moves, he's accumulated an enormous reservoir of goodwill.

That is to say, he's put a lot of political capital into the bank. And I now think in many ways, the drama going forward, the drama of 2014 in Francis' papacy is going to be how he chooses to spend all of that political capital that he's amassed.

KEILAR: Exactly. He's definitely sort of changed the image of a pope.

He tweets. He holds press conferences on planes. He has, here at this mass, a refreshed message for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

We'll be right back after a quick break. And we'll be back to our special, POPE FRANCIS' CHRISTMAS EVE MASS.


KEILAR: Welcome back to our special, POPE FRANCIS' CHRISTMAS EVE MASS.

Want to get some final thoughts from our panel here, and I'll start with you, Bishop O'Connell as you watch this.

What do you think is the -- I guess the final thought, as we end this tonight?

O'CONNELL: My takeaway, Brianna, is this. The pope said Jesus is not an idea to be sought after. He is the meaning of our lives.

And if we as Catholics and Christians really believe that, what a difference that conviction would make in our world, what a difference place the world would be.

KEILAR: And you, Father Beck?

BECK: Brianna, we haven't talked much about the cold-calling that Pope Francis has done, but I was so struck when I heard that a woman wrote him who was being pressured to have an abortion.

She decided to have the child, and then her local pastor would not baptize the child.

So he calls her up and he says, Even though I'm pope, I can still do baptisms.

To me that said the pope is, first and foremost, still a pastor.

KEILAR: And John Allen, Vatican analyst, as you watch this mass, what is your final thought for what this symbolizes?

ALLEN: The only time Francis went off his prepared text tonight was to add a reference at the end to the mercy of God, saying that God is always ready to forgive us.

If you want a tag line for Pope Francis, I think he is the pope of mercy, and that everything he is doing is intended to project an image of God's compassion and tenderness to a world that is obviously hungry for that message.

KEILAR: Certainly very hungry for it, and they've been paying much attention to Pope Francis' message.

John Allen, Bishop O'Connell, Father Beck, thank you to all of us for joining us.

And thank you so much for joining us.

I'm Brianna Keilar and a very merry Christmas to you.