'A Night in Bethlehem' in Whiting draws throngs
On the Third Sunday of Advent, the skies were blustery in Whiting and rain pelted down on the parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Still, the pilgrims came to the “little town of Bethlehem,” recreated there, in the parish hall. They came to see the shops, the synagogue, the census takers, the soldiers and the residents but most of all, they came to see the baby Jesus and his parents nestled in a ‘cave’ in the back of the parish hall.
A steady trail of pilgrims had begun making the journey since this staging of “A Night in Bethlehem” began Dec. 10. By the time the event was over, nearly 800 persons from around the area had walked in the footsteps of Mary and Joseph and, as nearly as possible, experienced what the Holy Family had experienced.
To get there, these 21st century pilgrims waited in long and winding lines in the chilly parking lot and filled out their census forms like Joseph had done so long ago.
They had to pay the tax authorities, who were firm about getting 4 shekels ($1) from everyone, no exceptions, or the small town, with its estimated population of 528 and its inn remained barred to them.
Once inside they encountered a bustling little ‘village center’ where the main street spanned the length of the hall. They got to sample the tastes of the times, including matzo given out by bake shop attendant Maria Brucato-Wilson, one of 90 parishioners volunteering their time and talent to make “A Night in Bethlehem” come to life.
Down the little lane, potters were at work on their craft and purveyors of Middle Eastern olive wood offered ornaments and artwork for sale. The synagogue was a magnet for youngsters who wanted to experience what it might have been like to study Scripture in the days when Jesus lived. More than 50 of the volunteers (including many of the Roman soldiers) were students from the religious education program and the active youth ministry in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
At the Madagascar Café, Patty Healey did her best to keep up with the demand for provisions including hummus, roasted vegetables, latkes (potato pancakes) and chili.
Healey kept her cool as she alternately waited on Roman soldiers, townsfolk and the hoards of outsiders as she shredded potatoes for the popular latkes. “This really is a wonderful event,” said Healey. “It brought everyone in the church community together.”
Natalie Klein, a seventh grader who volunteered to work in the pottery shop, was standing at the café window waiting for a snack. She agreed with Healey. “This is really cool,” she said.
“It’s a nice, creative idea.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton pastor, Father Pasquale A. Papalia, who was seated at a table in the Madagascar Café with parishioners Dolores and Ronald Venanzi, pronounced the Bethlehem event “a wonderful intergenerational parish experience” which, as organizer Debbie Milecki noted, was the aim of taking on the project.
“We were so pleased with all of the young people and families who came out. The main objective was to give them something to get involved in during Advent, something that would nourish them spiritually,” said Milecki, the parish coordinator of religious education.
And so it did.
The Venanzi’s were just two of many who walked through the recreation of the village recalling the stories of how Jesus was born.
Listening to them share their experience, Father Papalia smiled.
“It’s a wonderful way of reminding people that Jesus really came into the world.”[[In-content Ad]]