ASIA/TURKEY - Nativity Scene popular with Muslim children too: on Christmas Day, a working day, young and old flock to the Catholic church in Antioch to see the Babe in the Manger

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Antioch (Fides Service) - “Christmas is at the door. In Antioch, southern Turkey it comes in silence, without decorations on streets or in shop windows, without the rush of last minute of shopping for presents, but with a sincere desire to welcome the Baby Jesus to homes and churches decorated with flowers, candles, fresh linen and above all the Nativity Scene to celebrate and illustrate the great mystery of God, who became man, a helpless babe; and to rejoice together for His Light which breaks through the shadows”. Mariagrazia Zambon, a lay woman in the Catholic community in Antioch, tells Fides about Christmas in a Muslim country.
“Our Nativity Scene is an attraction for people of all ages, a reminder of an historical event of universal importance. Christians and non Christians make a point of visiting the Catholic church here. While in Italy there is talk of removing such Christian symbols from schools, here school children love to gather around the manger to see the Christ Child and admire the birth of this great prophet, asking about angels, candles, the stable: sings which stir reflection and interest. A few simple statues of clay offer an opportunity to share the Gospel message. A tradition not to neglect therefore, especially in Turkey where 99% of the people are Muslim.
Once again this year the “miracle” happens. There are Christmas trees and lights in the halls and the Nativity Scene in the church is ready. A group of school children in uniform is already at the door. They have come from the other side of town, on foot braving the cold and the traffic because the city council provides no bus. They come from a poor district in the new part of the town: many are without a coat, or socks and their worn shoes are three sizes too large. Of course none of the children are Christians.
“We would like to see the church and the Nativity Scene. The children have never been before. We know Christmas is an important feast for you and we want to share it with you” a teacher said. I put on the lights and the spectacle begins, a simple Scene with only a few characters, the sheep and the angels… paper mountains, the stable in wood: the children are enthralled. The teacher, also Muslim explains: “At Christmas Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus a prophet sent by God to bring peace, love and brotherhood to the world and teach us to love one another. And we should imitate him if we want to do the will of God. Jesus was a good person and the shepherds knew this and went see him and praise God”.
Not a word, their eyes and mouths open wide, captivated by the lights and the statues the children are the first little adorers of our Messiah! Many other school groups will follow in the days to come. Why do they come, what do they want to see?
The adults are even more intrigued by the mystery of the Nativity, anxious to know more about this God born in a stable who comes to transform life bringing love and peace even to the most troubled hearts. Many will come to see this new born prophet so special and powerful for Christians.
Even for the chief police and other leading citizens a visit to the Nativity Scene is a traditional appointment on Christmas Day, a working day, busy as usual. They come to greet the parish priest and the community and to admire the Nativity Scene, always the same, but original and captivating. A tasteful and artistic Christian tradition which tells what Christmas is all about”. (Agenzia Fides 21/12/2004; righe 52 parole 532)