INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) – Jim Liston believes his idea of emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas is so simple that he wonders why it took him so long to think of it. The idea came to Liston as he traveled through the neighborhoods around his Indianapolis home and saw how many people decorated their houses with brilliant light displays and filled their lawns with large, inflated Santas, reindeer and snowmen. It suddenly hit him that he rarely saw another kind of Christmas display. “It’s almost an anomaly when you see a Nativity scene,” said Liston, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis. “We’re in a society where everything about Christmas is glitz and consumerism. The simplicity of the Nativity scene struck me right in the heart. This is what Christmas is all about. I thought, ‘Why don’t I get one?’” Liston not only got one – and loved it – he also had the grand idea to make central Indiana the “Outdoor Nativity Scene Capital of the United States.” He set his plan in motion this year with a two-part approach. He contacted the manufacturer that made his Nativity scene to see if he could negotiate a reduced price for a large order. He also reached out to all the Catholic schools in the Indianapolis deaneries and in nearby Hamilton County to have them ask their families who would be interested in buying a Nativity scene to display in front of their homes.
CLEVELAND (CNS) – As an author and lecturer, Father Donald B. Cozzens, a Cleveland diocesan priest and former seminary rector, shared candid insights on the priesthood, challenging the Catholic Church to confront clericalism and renew its structure. Despite criticism privately and publicly from fellow clergy, Father Cozzens maintained that it was his love of the priesthood that prompted his outspokenness for positive change. Father Cozzens, 82, died Dec. 9 of complications from pneumonia caused by COVID-19. It was Father Cozzens’ book, “The Changing Face of the Priesthood,” published in 2000, that set the course for much of his life after he stepped down as president-rector of St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in the Diocese of Cleveland a year later to focus on teaching and writing. He spent more than 20 years tackling the issues he believed church officials needed to address including transparency in decision-making and welcoming women into a wide role in the church. Other works included “Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church,” “Faith That Dares to Speak,” and “Freeing Celibacy.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Although Italy no longer has a 10 p.m. curfew in force as part of its measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, Pope Francis will celebrate the “Christmas Mass at Night” at 7:30 p.m., as he did in 2020. On Dec. 13, the Vatican published the list of Pope Francis’ liturgies for the Christmas season. The schedule begins with what many people refer to as “midnight Mass” although the Mass has not been celebrated at midnight at the Vatican since 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI moved it to 10 p.m. Pope Francis moved it to 9:30 p.m. in 2013, his first Christmas as pope, and to 7:30 p.m. in 2020.
ROME (CNS) – Pope Francis will turn 85 years old Dec. 17. And according to his nephew, Jesuit Father José Luis Narvaja, he is still rarin’ to go. “I see him doing very well, with so much strength; really, he doesn’t seem to be 85,” the Argentine priest told the Italian Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, for its Dec. 12 issue. Father Narvaja, who is the son of the pope’s youngest sister, the late Marta Regina Bergoglio, said he visited his uncle, the pope, right after his colon surgery in July. Even then, “he was doing well but he was still in a bit of pain, and he told me, ‘Don’t make me laugh, the stitches hurt!’” he said. “He is very active, enthusiastic, he doesn’t stop. He said some people had hoped his illness would make him shut up a little, but it didn’t. He’s doing very well,” said Father Narvaja, who teaches patristics and divides his time between Rome and Cordoba, Argentina. Speaking about his uncle’s approach to his ministry as pontiff, the fellow Jesuit said, “He does what he feels the Spirit is asking of him.”
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) – When restoration on the Church of the Nativity’s wooden beams and leaking roof began in 2013 with the blessing of the three custodial churches, everyone involved was aware of the historic significance of the venture. It was the first time in 540 years that any repair work was done on the church on the site where Jesus was born. But what the team of workers – including local Palestinian committees and engineers and international restoration experts – did not know was the true impact of the initial ecumenical cooperation. Historically the Franciscans, Greek Orthodox and Armenians jealously guarded their rights in the church, under the 1852 Status Quo agreement that regulates the ownership of spaces in various holy sites as well as the times and duration of religious liturgies. As recently as 2011, Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks came to blows over cleaning rights in a certain area in the church. But with the leaking of the roof endangering the ancient structure, all agreed to undertake the necessary work. And a new era began. “Along the way the three churches noticed the good results that were coming from the cooperation and that it would be good to continue,” said Khouloud Daibes, the new executive director of the Bethlehem Development Foundation.
SOMERSET, England (CNS) – Through the heavy oak door of a 15th-century mansion set in a sweeping, frosty valley comes the sound of singing, backed by a mix of violins, concertinas and woodwinds. “Almighty God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him – at this time born of a pure virgin.” When Thomas Clark, a cobbler, composed his Christmas Day liturgical music around 1830, he probably never expected it would still be performed two centuries later. Halsway Manor, in Somerset’s Quantock Hills, has been a center for English folk arts since the 1960s and includes “West Gallery” music by Clark and others on its annual Christmas program. “Although long neglected and forgotten, this music has an intrinsic quality,” explained Dave Townsend, co-founder of Britain’s West Gallery Music Association. “Beneath the surface simplicity of some West Gallery settings, there’s a depth of feeling not found in more expansive music from the period. It was central to people’s lives and deserves historical recognition.”