Astonished by the crèche, a great work of evangelisation
by Bernardo Cervellera

In Europe, some school and civic authorities have banned crèches, Christmas carols, nativity recitals in order not to offend other religions. However, contempt for every religion, especially Catholicism, not respect for other religions, is the motive. People far from the faith make the crèche in an unacknowledged nostalgia for God. Crèches from Africa, from China, from Vietnam, from Peru tell something about missionaries. They too lived like Jesus: incarnation, patience, cultural immersion, tenderness and giving oneself.


Rome (AsiaNews) – In the Apostolic Letter on the “meaning and value of the crèche” he signed on 1° December in Greccio, the town of the first nativity scene, Pope Francis says that the representation of the birth of Jesus is "a great work of evangelisation” by Saint Francis of Assisi, giving us, like the shepherds, the opportunity to be ‘the first to see the most essential thing of all,” and inviting us, like the magi, to “reflect on the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel.”

Titled Admirabile signum (wonderful sign), the letter praises the Christmas tradition and expresses the hope that “this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.”

In recent years, especially in Europe, some schools and towns have banned nativity scenes, Christmas songs, Nativity recitals because they "offend other religions", particularly Jews and Muslims. In reality, I have never met any Jew or Muslim offended by this tradition. In fact, in a parish in Milan, I saw boys with Muslim fathers take part in a nativity recital with passion.

Examining closely the issue shows that respect for other religions is not reason for the ban, contempt for every religion, especially Catholicism, is. Western relativist society typically tries to erase religious signs, seemingly fearing "religious wars".

On the contrary, one might argue that the crèche is a sign of a fraternity among peoples. In every place or country, I visited I found Christian and non-Christian craftsmen making Nativity statues and scenes. In Vietnam, Montagnard families make statues out of dry roots from their forests; in China, young sculptors carve pine wood to make bas-reliefs of the Holy Family; in Iraq small carpets are woven depicting the adoration of the Magi ... In Italy, I have friends who are far from the faith who nevertheless set up a crèche, saying that with the smell of moss, lights and figurines “one can feel the atmosphere of Christmas, like in one’s childhood.”

This is nostalgia for God. In his Apostolic Letter, the Pope says that the crèche astonishes and moves people “because it shows God’s tender love: the Creator of the universe lowered himself to take up our littleness. The gift of life, in all its mystery, becomes all the more wondrous as we realize that the Son of Mary is the source and sustenance of all life.”

“Standing before the Christmas crèche, we are reminded of the time when we were children, eagerly waiting to set it up. These memories make us all the more conscious of the precious gift received from those who passed on the faith to us. At the same time, they remind us of our duty to share this same experience with our children and our grandchildren. It does not matter how the nativity scene is arranged [. . .]. Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas crèche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition.”

Crèches around the world also tell something about missionaries. The statuettes from Africa, China, Vietnam, India, or Peru hint at the story of people who travelled to those countries to brings news about the God Child. Their style was the same: incarnation, patience, cultural immersion, tenderness and giving oneself.

Speaking about the Child Jesus, the Pope writes: “God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms. Beneath weakness and frailty, he conceals his power that creates and transforms all things. [. . .] The nativity scene shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s own life. It invites us to become his disciples if we want to attain ultimate meaning in life.”

It is up to us to be like the Magi, “to bear glad tidings to all, testifying by our practical works of mercy to the joy of knowing Jesus and his love.”