MARIO TONEGUZZI, Calgary Herald
December 11, 2010
For the past four years, the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre near Cochrane has hosted the Greccio Christmas Nativity Celebration.
It’s a tradition that “reminds us of the real meaning of Christmas,” says Father Kevin Lynch of the Mount.
And it has become a popular devotion for many people in the Calgary area.
It is said that the first nativity scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 in Greccio, Italy, in an attempt to refocus people on worshipping the birth of Christ as opposed to placing their emphasis on gift giving and secular materialism.
The first nativity scene was staged in a cave with humans and animals cast in their biblical roles according to the scripture’s story about Christ’s birth.
Tradition credits St. Francis with popularizing the Christmas manger displayed in our churches during the Christmas season.
“St. Francis decided he wanted to gather together some people to celebrate Christmas in a nicer way or a more inspiring way, or a more alive way, than some of the liturgy of the time,” says Lynch of the origin of the nativity scene in the 13th century.
“Not unlike our own age. Some people might say it was boring. We’re trying to enliven the inspiration of his time as we’re trying to do in our time.”
The Greccio Christmas Pageant at the Mount takes place Dec. 14.
“Christmas was St. Francis’s favourite feast. He always wanted to celebrate it in a special way, because it showed God’s great love revealed in the birth of Christ,” says Lynch.
“It was in the little Italian village of Greccio, that Francis made the incarnation come alive and immediate through scriptural readings, hymns, live animals, a manger and a newborn child, to help people open their hearts to God’s love. Greccio became, as it were, a new Bethlehem.”
The Mount’s new Franciscan deacon, Friar Pierre Ducharme, who will be ordained to the ministerial priesthood on May 14, 2011, will officiate at this outdoor celebration. Denis Grady and the musical group, Franciscans and Friends, will lead the gathering in song.
Weather permitting, prior to the festivities, people will have the opportunity to go on an old-fashioned winter sleigh ride, beginning at 4 p.m. A pizza supper will be catered from 6 to 7 p.m. The pageant is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Hot chocolate and homemade cookies will be served after the pageant, which ends around 9 p.m.
A passenger bus will leave St. Luke’s Catholic Church (1566 Northmount Dr. N.W.) at 6:15 p.m. for the Mount. Phone 403-281-6025 or 403-281-3432 to reserve a seat ($10 per person).
A free-will offering or a nonperishable food item will be accepted with all donations to go to the Cochrane Activettes Food Bank.
For more information on the event, which has drawn hundreds of spectators in the past, call Mount St. Francis at 403-932-2012.