By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - All are welcome to visit the “Christ in Christmas” nativity scene at Cristo Rey Parish at 4245 J St., Lincoln.
The 28-by-12-foot, highly detailed display will be open to the public 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily from Sunday, Dec. 21 through Saturday, Jan. 10.
This one-of-a-kind nativity is an opportunity for people of all ages to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. People from many different churches — and even different faiths — visit every year.
Built as a labor of love by volunteers, the scene is called a Belén (“Bethlehem”) in Spanish. More than showing the birthplace of Christ, the Cristo Rey Belén also includes other Biblical scenes and settings, including Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Cana, the Sea of Galilee and Egypt.
Viewers can take time to enjoy the skillfully created tableau, which include the Annunciation and Saint Mary’s visit to Saint Elizabeth. See Saint Joseph’s carpentry shop, his dream and the angel, the census that brought him and the Blessed Mother to Bethlehem. Notice the crowded inn and, of course, the stable with its manger where Christ was born.
Other scenes show the angel appearing to the shepherds, Herod’s castle, the wise men, and the flight to Egypt.
This will be the ninth year that Cristo Rey has set up the Belén. Every year there is something new. This year, the Annunciation will be depicted in the back yard of Mary’s home, instead of in a cave, as in previous years.
There are also some very special features. For example the Sea of Galilee in the Belén includes a white rock from the actual Sea of Galilee. It’s placed next to the temple where the presentation of the Christ Child is shown.
Sharp-eyed visitors will also notice that Saint Francis of Assisi is also part of the scene. It was he who is credited with beginning the tradition of building and displaying Nativity scenes.
According to some sources, Saint Francis set up the first nativity scene in Creccio, Italy in 1223. He may have been inspired by an earlier tradition of actors portraying various mysteries of the Catholic faith.
In time, the simple manger scene set up by Saint Francis evolved into spectacular scenes on the scale of Christo Rey’s Belén and even larger. In Italy, Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, the tradition of Belén displays is enjoyed by many people, who visit different churches to view their creative, intricate masterpieces of faith, art and culture.
In the U.S., a true Belén is rare. That makes the Cristo Rey nativity even more special.
It takes an entire week for the team of volunteers to set up the manger scene. The crew includes Martin Pella of North American Martyrs Parish, Jose Casarin, who is originally from Monterey, Mexico, and Martin Garcia, who moved to the U.S. from Aguas Calientes, Mexico.
“We work every day from 11 a.m. to approximately 10 p.m., from Dec. 13 until Dec. 21,” said Jose Herrero, who works with the other men to set it up.
Herrero said the Belén brings families together.
“On one occasion I had a couple that had lost their only son on 9/11 and told me coming to see the manger helps them cope with their sadness on the holidays.”
There is no cost to see the Belén. However, a collection is being raised to help build a Catholic Church in Kenya that serves orphans and impoverished families launched by the late Father Angelo D´Agostino, S.J., M.D. (Learn more about this important mission work at www.nyumbani.org.)
As the Belén is particularly crowded before and after Mass, guests are encouraged to visit at alternative times.
“Everyone who treasures life, who wants to let his or her imagination be transported to another miniature world display in our church should come see it,” Mr. Herrero said. “Anyone who has experienced being a father or mother and want to re-experience the joy that was brought to them with a newborn… people that want to make an imaginary trip to the Holy Land and congratulate Mary and Joseph for the birth of Christ.”
He added, “This is built for everyone who seeks to find in their heart, Christ in Christmas.”
Skilled craftsmen who would like to help set up the Belén this year are encouraged to volunteer. Please call the parish at (402) 488-5087 if interested.