VATICAN CITY—Hoping to have all his holiday decorations up by the weekend, His Holiness Pope Francis has spent the past two hours rummaging through the basement of the papal apartments in search of the Vatican's plastic nativity scene figures, sources confirmed Friday.
After climbing over dusty cases of sacramental wine and bins filled with mothballed vestments, the pope reportedly found the set's plywood manger in a corner of the room near the sump pump, though sources noted he has yet to locate all the blow-molded polyethylene representations of the Holy Family and their Christmas visitors.
"Oh, come on, where's the third wise man?" the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said as he pushed aside several priceless Raphael and Fra Angelico paintings to peer into a cardboard box, aided by the dim light of a bare bulb hanging overhead. "I could've sworn I put him away with everybody else. There's a ton of donkeys and sheep in here, but a lot of good that does me with only two wise men. Jeez."
"I don't have time for this," he added. "I've still got an epistle that needs to be finished."
Designed for outdoor use, the 14-piece set of internally lit plastic figurines was first purchased by Pope John Paul II in 1981, and every year since, according to Vatican observers, the reigning pontiff has personally assembled the nativity scene outside the Apostolic Palace in Saint Peter's Square. The display, including the colored lights that outline the manger and wrap around a few of the piazza's iconic Tuscan colonnades, is reportedly powered by an extension cord running from an outlet in the papal garage.
After testing to confirm that Mary would still light up when plugged in, Francis noted that the winters had taken their toll on the Blessed Virgin, wearing away most of the paint on her face. He also added that he would likely have to display the statue of a kneeling Joseph at an awkward angle, so as to obscure the dent in his head suffered during Benedict XVI's papacy.
Sources within the Holy See said that Francis has expressed dismay at his predecessor's lax oversight of the nativity scene, complaining about last Christmas—his first since assuming the Chair of St. Peter—when two long-missing shepherds and an Angel of the Lord were eventually discovered in a tub mislabeled "winter coats."
"You know what? I don't think this baby Jesus is even from the same set," said the pope in audible exasperation, pointing out that the unpainted plastic infant he found beneath a tangled ball of Christmas lights and a bag of old palm ashes had a much more simplistic design than the rest of the figures. "Ugh. I honestly wouldn't mind if I thought people wouldn't notice, but he might not even fit inside the manger."
"He's nearly the same size as Mary, for God's sake," Francis continued.
According to reports, the Holy Father spent 15 minutes this morning on an unsuccessful attempt to assemble the Christ Child's crib, but after snapping the dowel used to hold its wooden slats together, he is said to have tossed the whole thing aside in frustration.
Exhausted from his search through the basement, the 77-year-old pontiff reportedly grew even more aggravated after banging his knee on a table and knocking over a stack of relics, including several shards from the True Cross and a wrist bone of St. Gregory the Great.
"Well, it looks like we're going without a Star of Bethlehem this year," the pope said before emitting an extended sigh. "We've got so many goddamn packages of tinsel down here, I guess I'll just dangle some of that from the roof and call it a day. If Cardinal [Angelo] Sodano complains, he can deal with it himself. I've already spent way too much time on this."
Added the pope, "Right now, I really need to climb to the top of the Basilica dome and get Santa's sleigh mounted on the roof."