AS I look back on images from 2013, one that stands out is the picture of the newly elected Pope Francis standing on the balcony of St Peter's basilica.
He greeted the people with a friendly "Buona sera!", "Good evening!"
In the months since his election, he has shown an engaging informality in meeting people from all walks of life and he has demonstrated great compassion for people in need.
He has shared the sorrows of those who suffer in so many ways around the world. At the same time he has spoken with enthusiasm of the joy that Christ came to bring us, even in the midst of our trials.
Just last month, Pope Francis published a document that expressed both his compassion for those in sorrow and the joy he finds in faith in Christ.
The document is called The Joy of the Gospel and begins with an invitation to the joy offered by Christ: "No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since 'no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord'."
In the course of the document, Pope Francis speaks often of the joy of a relationship with Christ. At the same time, he speaks much of the sorrows that afflict people today and he calls us to respond to the poor and to all people in need as Christ himself did – with tender compassion.
"God's heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that He Himself 'became poor'"
"God's heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that He Himself 'became poor'."
The Saviour was born in a stable, in the midst of animals, like children of poor families.
When he began to preach the Kingdom, crowds of the dispossessed followed him. He assured those burdened by sorrow and crushed by poverty that God has a special place for them in his heart: Blessed are you poor, yours in the kingdom of God.
"As Christians, we are called to care for the vulnerable of the Earth. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others."
Pope Francis encourages us to be of good cheer as we celebrate the birth of Christ but he also challenges us to share this good cheer with others, especially those in need.