A taste of Bethlehem

| December 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

Christmas in June? That’s the way it is for Father Alberto Curbelo when it comes to preparing for the birth of Jesus.

While many people are busy planning summer vacations, he is assembling a Nativity scene that fills one wall in the rectory of St. Francis de Sales in St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood where he serves. It includes several hundred hand-made pieces and figurines.

In addition to the classic manger scene, his display includes scenes depicting the Annunciation, Visitation, Mary and Joseph at the inn looking for a place to give birth to Jesus, and the flight to Egypt after Jesus’ birth. Music plays continually, and lighting mimics dawn, dusk, midday and night.

“It wouldn’t be Christmas without Father’s crèche,” said parishioner Mary Jo Zarbo, who has seen it every year since Father Curbelo started creating 10 years ago, when he arrived at the parish from his native Puerto Rico. “It always takes my breath away. Every year he outdoes himself. It’s just unreal what he can do, the ideas that he has in his head that he puts out there.”

Father Curbelo, 47, who belongs to the Servants of the Holy Eucharist and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and serves as St. Francis’ parochial vicar, started crafting Nativity scenes 23 years ago in Puerto Rico, right after being ordained a deacon.

“From my childhood, I liked to prepare our Nativity scene at home with my family,” he said. “There were just five or six figurines. Then, when I entered the [religious] community, I learned from another priest in our congregation how to make it.”

Once at St. Francis de Sales, he started with a small Nativity scene the first year, and kept expanding it over the years. He later added a second Nativity scene in the church, which now is mostly assembled by parishioners but still under his direction.

“Our parishioners look forward to it,” said Father Juan Miguel Betancourt, pastor of St. Francis — which merged with nearby St. James in 2011 — and also a member of the Servants order. “People actually go away inspired. It’s not only about how beautiful this is or how beautiful it looks. It’s about reminding them of the mysteries of our salvation and how the word incarnate, Jesus our savior, has come into the reality of life.”

As Father Curbelo works on the display, he meditates and prays. That practice continues after it’s done, with short visits throughout the day to the room where it is located. Typically, he leaves the Nativity scene up until Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The display in the rectory is open to the public 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. It also will be open 3 to 7 p.m. Christmas Eve. The rectory is located next to St. Francis church at 650 Palace Ave.

For parishioners like Zarbo, who has visited the Nativity scene in the rectory twice this Advent, it’s a way to help bring to mind the real meaning of Christmas. And, she has some advice for those who visit.

“Stand back,” she said. “You don’t even have to talk. Just listen and let your eyes wander.”

Photos by Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit



Tags: , , ,

Category: Christmas, Featured