Vatican Accepts Donation of a Nativity Scene

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Oil giants such as Total and Shell and other companies operating in southern Italy’s petroleum-rich Basilicata region footed the expenses for this year’s Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

The regional government offered to donate to the Vatican a 1,615-square-foot artistic representation of Christ’s birth, resulting in “very significant savings” for the Holy See, said Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, secretary-general of the Vatican governor’s office.

Basilicata officials launched a fundraising appeal to the surrounding business community, which ended up covering “95 percent to 100 percent” of the project’s expenses, said Vito De Filippo, president of the Basilicata region.

The total cost was about $117,580 and included expenses such as the lighting system, transport costs, insurance coverage and “food and lodging” for the artist, Francesco Artese.

The Vatican was to spend about $28,460 in personnel and labor costs in assembling the scene, which will place Jesus, Mary and Joseph in an artistic re-creation of the picturesque rocky setting of the ancient cave city of Matera, where “sassi” – stone houses carved into caves – are located. Matera is a U.N. World Heritage site.

This was the first time the Vatican has used a donated scene in the main square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Since 1982, when a creche was first erected in the square at the request of Blessed John Paul II, the Vatican covered the costs of creating and building a different scene each year while using the same 19th-century core figures of the Holy Family and the Magi. It often accepted donated figures to add to the main pieces.

Bishop Sciacca said that last year’s Nativity scene cost the Vatican about $235,160, resulting in a “notable” savings this year of approximately $206,430.

Hardworking Farmers and Artisans

This year’s scene will be decorated with more than 100 terracotta figures and detailed scenery showing the simple and hardworking life of farmers and artisans. Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican museums, said the Nativity scene will have lots of animals and “be full of chickens and sheep” and donkeys.

The presence of people and animals gathered together around the baby Jesus teaches people the ideal of “fraternity that unites all living creatures on Earth,” he said. Although it won’t happen in St. Peter’s Square, Paolucci said he supported the frequent practice in Italy of placing well-known contemporary figures, like soccer stars and politicians, in the grotto with Jesus, Mary and Joseph.