Parishioners saw Scripture come to life Saturday, Dec. 5 as students from Our Lady of Fatima School, Jackson Heights, portrayed a retelling of the Nativity story.
“It makes us realize that Advent is not a time of hoping for gifts; it’s a time for the coming of Jesus,” said Sebastian Ramirez, who portrayed St. Joseph.
He accompanied Mary, portrayed by eighth grader Sophia Deveikis, as she rode a donkey to the wooden manger in front of the school. There were also sheep for the shepherds and a camel for the Three Kings who followed Joseph and Mary from afar. Father Darrell Da Costa, the church’s new pastor, blessed the manger and the Christmas tree.
The tradition of the living Nativity started nearly 10 years ago as a way to involve the school community in the life of the parish. It quickly became a favorite of students and parishioners.
Cassie Zelic, school principal, said the “Journey to Bethlehem” presentation is a way for students, especially those who are not in the parish, to share the school’s Catholic identity with the community.
“The older students are learning a lot from it as well as the small children who are there to witness it,” said Angela Gentilella, religion teacher.
She added that the presentation helps people to put the commercialism of Christmas aside and to celebrate what the season really is about.
Parishioners experienced the second Sunday of Advent with a concert by the school’s schola and choir before and during the 5 p.m. Mass. Afterward, students reverently processed to the altar as the choir sang Advent hymns.
Debbie Sypeck came to watch the Advent concert and living Nativity with her son John, an Our Lady of Fatima alumnus who played a shepherd years ago. She said the night was a joyous reflection and preparation of Advent.
Preparing for Christmas
During his homily, Father James Fedigan, S.J., said the manger reminds people that Jesus brings joy and peace, justice, mercy and love. The children portraying biblical figures echoed the priest’s message: the gift of Christmas is Jesus.
Kyanna Camacho, who portrayed an angel, said that she used to look up to the older students who took part in the Nativity scene and now she was happy to help little children “see that Christmas is about Christ.”
Isabella Saenz, one of the angels, and Ramirez, said that being part of the living Nativity expanded their knowledge of Advent.
“It was very fun to take part in this,” added Angel Salas, a seventh-grade student who played one of the shepherds.
The school children at Our Lady of Fatima have been preparing for Christmas by doing good deeds, praying and offering sacrifices. Some, like Salas, spend time helping at a senior center.
“You give thanks that the children are here and they are showing their faith,” Father Da Costa said. “It is just beautiful not only the children’s (Nativity scene) but the children’s choir is beautiful to hear. It invites raising one’s spirit to the Lord.”
Pictured, from top left, Kyanna Camacho, Lesley Rivadeniera, Isabella Llamoza, Diana Chabla and Isabella Saenz. Mary and Joseph were portrayed by Sophia Deveikis and Sebastian Ramirez.