As darkness descended upon St. Agatha Church, Dec. 6, a small group of people prayed the rosary inside while children played outside, keeping warm by not standing still.
As the night went on, the temperature around the church became warmer. A crowd of people bundled up in layers with heads tucked in warm coat hoods started gathering around the children, who sang Christmas carols in Spanish and English.
The crowd far surpassed what Father Vincentus Do, pastor, and his team hoped for the first Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the Sunset Park parish. Having seen the good that a lighting can bring to a parish from his experience at Regina Pacis, Bensonhurst, Father Do wanted to bring the tradition to his new parish.
“For us, Christ is our light,” Father Do said. “Christmas is about Christ. So we want to send out the right message.”
Maimonides Medical Center helped get the ball rolling with a $1,000 grant as part of its Celebration of Light fund. Father Do said the parish was able to take that money and multiply it six-fold. Parishioners were offered the opportunity to memorialize members of their family by sponsoring trees or wreathes. In total, the parish put 20 pine trees and 40 wreathes around the parish complex, which includes the parochial school.
Christine and Marcus Ng sponsored a wreath in honor of their family and as a way to prepare for their baby boy’s first Christmas.
“We don’t have room for a tree in our apartment,” Marcus said. “So if we sponsor a wreath we can bring him here to look at it.”
Susan Surano, the kindergarten teacher at St. Agatha School, said the number of people who attended the ceremony pleasantly surprised her.
“It brings the community together,” Surano said. “It shows that we are made of all different cultures but we are one in ministry.”
Father Do said the event was a success thanks to the collaboration of the different groups in the parish. The Boy Scouts built a button and stand for the ceremonial lighting; the Girl Scouts provided cookies; the parochial children’s choir sang; and the school’s spirit team volunteered to help the event run smoothly.
The ceremony itself consisted of Scripture reading, song and prayer.
“Lord our God, we praise you for the light of creation: the Sun, the Moon and the stars of the night,” Father Do led the prayer. “We praise you for the light of Jesus Christ, your Son… who rescued us from the darkness of sin and fills us with the wonder of your Love.”
When he finished, he invited a special guest to take center stage. Santa Claus emerged from the church to the glee of the children and adults in the crowd. After a countdown, he lit up the street with the glow of Christmas lights on trees and wreathes.
At the end of the ceremony, Father Do reflected on the difficulty he had to help his pastoral team understand what this celebration would be about.
“Next year, I don’t think I’ll have to convince anybody,” he said.