A child receives a gift from one of the “Magi” during a Feast of the Epiphany celebration Jan. 7 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Joe Moore photo

A child receives a gift from one of the “Magi” during a Feast of the Epiphany celebration Jan. 7 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Joe Moore photo

By Rose O’Connor and David Kilby | Correspondents

Honoring the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, young people took center stage during parish observances of the Feast of the Epiphany Jan. 7.

“We are very blessed here,” Deacon Luis Ramos said as children prepared to receive gifts from three young parishioners dressed as the Magi after Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. “People are very good to our parishioners.”

Photo Gallery: Epiphany in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral

The presents, distributed by José Estevez, Erick Plaza and Fabian Tobito, were donated by Toys R Us, Lawrenceville, which is managed by parishioner Ivan Collazo.

“It’s nice to see their smiles,” Collazo said. “Toys allow children to be children.”

Gifts were one of the main messages in both Trenton’s Cathedral and St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton, where youngsters in grades K-5 celebrated the story of Christ’s birth and the Magi who visited the infant Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Gift of Self-Sacrifice

During the celebration of the Vigil Mass in Trenton, Msgr. Joseph Roldan, Cathedral rector, recalled in his homily the story of the Gift of the Magi, written by O. Henry and published in 1905. In the well-known story, a husband and wife struggle financially to purchase a Christmas gift for the other. The wife sells her beautiful hair to purchase a chain for her husband’s much-loved pocket watch, which he has sold to purchase combs for her long locks. In the story, the couple comes to understand that their love is the true and priceless gift.

“This is why we do gift-giving on the Epiphany,” Msgr. Roldan said. “We see the journey of the Magi and the sacrifices they made to bring gifts to Jesus; we then bring gifts to Jesus, too – the gift of ourselves.”

Deacon Ramos, who assisted at Mass, reiterated that message, saying the gift of love brought by Jesus “is the ultimate gift. He gave his life by dying on the Cross.”

The Present of Presence

Father Phillip Pfleger, pastor, also spoke of gifts during St. Isaac Jogues Parish’s Epiphany celebration and annual Christmas program.

“We prepare so much for Christmas Day that we often miss that the real great gifts are not what we give each other, but what God has given to us,” he said. “Every day we can give these gifts back to Jesus’ sisters and brothers. In a world that’s kind of gone crazy, God is always with us. This is a great way to become more aware of that. These are the things the kids will remember.”

Indeed, it was a day to remember as the parish community watched their young parishioners present a Christmas program celebrating Christ’s Birth. The performance, starring grades K-5, is traditionally held in December but was moved this year to celebrate the Christmas season.

The program began with a song about the Nativity of Christ, sung by Samantha Thomas to the melody of “Broken Hallelujah.”

Six students rang bells and sang to the tune of “Silent Night,” which served as a segue into the narration of the Christmas story. Various students narrated the story as actors played the parts of Mary, Joseph, shepherds and the Magi.

“Thank you, young parishioners, for reminding us that Christmas is not just one day,” St. Joseph Sister Mary Kay Kelley, director of religious education and coordinator of the event, said at the end of the program.

Father Pfleger echoed that sentiment, saying, “We know that this comes from the heart. We know that these children are learning the message Jesus has for us. It’s a great way of letting them know that in this family of St. Isaac’s, we come together to support each other, to love each other and to pray.”

Others who attended pointed out the importance for the parish to hold events such as the Christmas program.

“It fosters community for the children and the parents so we can show them that Christmas and their faith is more than just rituals,” parishioner Dan Trost said.

Said Terri Verrone, Sister Mary Kay’s assistant, “We’re really trying to convey the message of living the faith and being part of the parish.”

Jillian Strauss, an eighth-grader who attended the program, agreed that message was conveyed. “It brings families together. … People feel welcome.”