"When he invited me [onto the popemobile], he invited all priests to be near the people," Fr. Fabian Baez said.
Surrounded by cheese sellers, shoemakers and bleating, baying animals, Pope Francis immersed himself in a lively re-enactment of a special day in Bethlehem.
He even let a lamb rest on his shoulders and greeted a tiny baby named Francis, who played the part of Jesus, when he visited a live Nativity scene Monday at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori on the northern outskirts of Rome.
Christians should go out into the world to follow God but use "holy cunning" to guard against the snares of temptation, Pope Francis said.
The pope made the remarks at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Monday on the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the manifestation of Jesus as savior to the world.
In his homily, the pope said that life is a journey, and like the three Wise Men, or Magi, people are looking for the "fullness of truth and of love which we Christians recognize in Jesus, the light of the world."
By comparison, during the year following the election of Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, more than 4 million people attended papal events.
Welcoming in a new year, Pope Francis said it was time to stop provoking and ignoring violence, tragedy and conflict in the world, and begin building peace at home.
"Justice and peace at home, among us -- you begin at home and then you move on to all of humanity. But we have to start at home," he said Jan. 1, which the church marks as the feast of Mary, Mother of God and as World Peace Day.
An unidentified 51-year-old man died Sunday, three days after setting himself on fire in St. Peter's Square.
Italian news reports said the man, who had third-degree burns on almost 50 percent of his body, died at Rome's Sant'Eugenio Hospital.
At about 8:30 a.m. Dec. 19, the man entered St. Peter's Square carrying a bottle of gasoline. At the end of the colonnade near Piazza Pio XII, he doused himself with the fuel and lit himself aflame.
The figures in the world-famous Nativity scenes of Naples are all meant to illustrate "the permanent coming of the Lord into history."
Latin-rite Patriarch Faoud Twal of Jerusalem told reporters he expected to host Pope Francis on a visit to the Holy Land in May.
Listing "upcoming events for next year," Twal began with "the pope's visit to the Holy Land planned for next May, first in Jordan, then in Israel-Palestine."
The unidentified man doused himself with gasoline he carried in a bottle then lit himself aflame at the end of the colonnade near Piazza Pio XII.
Pope Francis said Christmas is an occasion of joy but also a lesson in humility, when the faithful are called to imitate the example of God-made-man.
The pope made his remarks Wednesday during his weekly public audience in St. Peter's Square.
"God abases himself, descends to earth as someone small and poor, which means that to be like him we should not put ourselves above others, but on the contrary, abase ourselves, give ourselves in service, make ourselves small with the small and poor with the poor," he said.