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Institute for Pastoral Initiatives News

Nativity Scenes, UD and Pope Francis

By Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min

Do you recall your childhood Christmases?   

Was setting up a nativity scene in your home a part of your holiday?

Crèches are one of our most significant Catholic Christmas Customs & Traditions. 

Pope Francis has written a lovely Apostolic Letter- ‘Admirabile Signum’ on the Meaning and Importance of the Nativity Scene, published December 1, 2019. 

The Pope reminds us that "Beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives, it (crèches) teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us, to feel and believe that God is with us.”

I particularly love the line in his letter that says: “The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture.”  

Perhaps this is the reason why people cannot simply pass by a crèche without stopping by. They pause to wonder and ponder at the figurines and reflect on their own childhood crèche faith experience.

I think a lot about this line as I walk down the halls in our building (Daniel Curran Place) as 25 international crèches are on display. (watch the video below)

Each crèche illustrates the same Nativity story; yet, each beautifully incorporates a unique focus or cultural perspective. As one journey’s from crèche to crèche we are enriched with how diverse peoples embrace the story of Divine Love into their lives.

Pope Francis invites us to imagine visiting the little Italian town of Greccio where Saint Francis established the first live Nativity set Christmas 1223.  The first biographer of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano stated that ‘everyone went home with joy’ from the experience.

The Holy Father invites us to “feel” and “touch” the poverty that God’s Son took upon himself in the Incarnation.  Implicitly, it summons us to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross.”

Pope Francis encourages us to bring this experience to life by ‘asking us to meet him and serve him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need (cf Mt25:31-46).

During these days of Christmas, I encourage you to access Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter on Meaning and Importance of the Nativity Scene. Perhaps with your family sitting around your crèche, prayerfully read one of Pope Francis’s descriptions for understanding the nativity scene.  It is amazing how quickly each of you will discover a new perspective for appreciating each symbol, figurine, and environment of your crèche display.

Alternatively, you can visit the University of Dayton's At the Manger display. Since 1995, the University of Dayton’s Marian Library has presented a selection of its expansive collection of 3,500 Nativity scenes from more than 100 countries, celebrating how people around the world ponder and picture the birth of Christ through many different cultural lenses. (with 25 displayed in Curran Place)

Each crèche offers us an opportunity to re-capture our religious imagination to spark a new and deeper awareness for passing on our faith to our children, family and friends. Join the movement to reclaim the authentic spirit of Christmas in a growing secular world.

The Christmas crèche speaks to us of the love of God and the wonder that he took on our human condition to be close with us.

Holy Christmas!  

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min, is the Director of The Institute for Pastoral Initiatives. IPI oversees many university and global projects, including the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation, a distance learning program serving 88 (Arch)dioceses worldwide, for adults who want to enrich their faith, for religious educators, Catholic teachers,catechists, youth ministers or those interested in faith formation.  To see the complete online course list in English, Spanish & Arabic, go to VLCFF.UDayton.edu

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