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Eco-warriors block Pope’s Christmas tree from being felled

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 15/11/2022 Nick Squires
Pope Francis walks by a Christmas tree during the general audience in 2021 - FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP © FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP Pope Francis walks by a Christmas tree during the general audience in 2021 - FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP

The Pope’s Christmas tree is under threat after eco-warriors blocked it from being felled. 

A huge 200-year-old fir tree destined to be the focus of the Vatican’s traditional Christmas celebrations in St Peter’s Square was not cut down after environmentalists blocked it. 

They argued that the 100ft-high tree grows in a protected reserve and must not be logged.

Dubbed by Italy’s national news agency on Tuesday as “the tree of discord”, the spruce fir grows in a forest on the border between the mountainous regions of Abruzzo and Molise.

It had been earmarked for felling by the town of Rosello in Abruzzo and was due to be erected in St Peter’s Square on December 3.

But the felling of the giant tree has been blocked by the forestry corps after a protest launched by Dario Rapino, a naturalist and photographer.

The Vatican Christmas tree in front of the Apostolic Palace from where Pope Francis delivers his Sunday Angelus prayer - SOPA © Provided by The Telegraph The Vatican Christmas tree in front of the Apostolic Palace from where Pope Francis delivers his Sunday Angelus prayer - SOPA

He wrote a letter to Pope Francis beseeching him not to allow the fir to be cut down and transported to Rome as the Vatican gears up for the festive period.

Mr Rapino quoted one of the Pope’s own encyclicals, Laudato Si’, an open letter to the world that he wrote in 2015 in which he stressed the need to protect the environment.

“I asked him to intervene so that a centuries-old tree should not be cut down given its importance to the local ecosystem,” Mr Rapino said.

The phrase Laudato Si’, which means “may you be praised”, was taken from a quote by St Francis of Assisi, from whom Pope Francis took his name when elected in 2013.

Dario Rapino stands next to the tree which has not yet been felled © Provided by The Telegraph Dario Rapino stands next to the tree which has not yet been felled

To complicate the matter, authorities discovered that the tree in fact grows just across the border in Molise, meaning that the town of Rosello no longer has the right to send it as a gift to the Pope because it does not come under the jurisdiction of Abruzzo.

The whole plan has been suspended as the two regions wrangle over whether to try to identify another tree that can be sent to the Vatican.

“If there are such problems with that tree then we will have to find another one in one of the region’s plantations, where there are firs that are 25 to 35 metres tall,” said Alessio Monaco, the mayor of Rosello.

The problem appeared close to being resolved on Tuesday when forestry officials said they would give Rosello a tree from another part of Abruzzo so that the town could then donate it to the Vatican.

“The whole business has had a happy outcome,” said Mr Rapino, the campaigner. “To have saved such an important tree brings me great joy.”

But he said that the custom of chopping down ancient trees to adorn the Vatican should “sooner or later be brought to an end.”

The tradition of placing a Christmas tree in the middle of St Peter’s Square in the weeks leading up to Christmas was established by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Each year a tree is donated either by one of Italy’s 20 regions or another European country. Past trees have been sent by Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Poland.

But cutting down huge firs for the Vatican’s festivities has proved controversial in the past – Austrian environmentalists objected to one of their trees being donated in 1989 and there was a similar debate over a tree that grew in the forests of Calabria in southern Italy in 2006.

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