VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The world famous Nativity scenes of Naples never follow just the biblical account of Jesus’ birth; for one thing, the figures usually are dressed in 18th-century costumes, but also it’s not unusual for a modern-day politician or even pope to enter the scene.
The Christmas creche donated to the Vatican by the Archdiocese of Naples does not have Pope Francis or any politicians in it, but Msgr. Adolfo Russo, the archdiocesan vicar for culture, said the figures of musicians, the poor, the rich, the young and the old are all meant to illustrate “the permanent coming of the Lord into history.”
“Jesus is always coming into the world, into a specific social context,” the monsignor told Catholic News Service Dec. 23 just after meeting Pope Francis with Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples and the artists who created the Nativity scene.
The public unveiling of the scene was scheduled for late afternoon Dec. 24, but the cardinal and the artists gave a preview to reporters, accompanying them behind the burlap fence hiding it from public view.
Cardinal Sepe said the scene with its life-sized figures — whose heads, hands and feet are made of terra cotta — would be donated to the Vatican Museums after Christmas.
The cardinal said his favorite part of the scene is the poor mother who brings her son to see the Baby Jesus. The mother and son are symbols for all the poor and simple people who find hope and salvation “in the Lord who is newly born,” he said.
The figures are the work of the imagination and hands of artist Antonio Cantone, who said the figure he has the most affection for is described only as “The Beggar.” Roughly dressed and dirty, he’s sitting at the feet of the Baby Jesus’ manger.
“It’s no accident that we have him sitting closest to the baby,” Cantone said. “It’s an image of how the poor are closest to God.”
“He has nothing,” Cantone said. “If you notice, we’ve put the Three Kings’ gifts farther away. The beggar brings only himself.”
The scene has Jesus, Mary and Joseph and 14 other figures, including the three Wise Men. One of the others is the “Zampognaro,” who plays a rustic form of bagpipe. Msgr. Russo said the musician is a key part of a Neapolitan Nativity because “he brings music, a note of joy. The coming of Jesus is always the cause of joy.”
Sixteen busts of angels are scattered above the manger and at its feet. Cantone said it was not possible to hang 16 full-bodied angels, so he went with the heads and wings.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103