A student at a Montgomery County Catholic school recently received a national honor for his depiction of a key figure in the Christmas Gospel narrative.

Benjamin Robbins, a freshman at Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford, designed a vibrant picture of the angel Gabriel for a 2020-2021 Christmas Artwork Contest sponsored by the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA). On Dec. 3, he traveled with his parents Chris and Lisa to Washington, D.C. to accept his award.

Presiding at the ceremony and Mass, which took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was MCA national director Msgr. Kieran Harrington. Eleven of the 24 contest winners – representing dioceses throughout the U.S. – were on hand with their families for the occasion. The students’ artwork will be displayed at the basilica through the Advent and Christmas seasons.

The annual competition — which draws thousands of entries from elementary school age children in Catholic schools, religious education and home school programs throughout the U.S. – invites kids to illustrate a Scripturally-based aspect of Christ’s birth, such as the manger scene, the visits of the Magi and the shepherds, or the angel Gabriel.

The MCA is one of four organizations that make up the Pontifical Mission Societies, which in total now aid some 1,110 mission dioceses throughout the world.

(Related: View images of works by local winners in the archdiocesan Christmas artwork contest.)

With a motto of “children helping children,” the MCA encourages members to share both faith and practical support with kids worldwide. The three other pontifical mission groups – the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (SPF), the Society of St. Peter the Apostle and the Pontifical Missionary Union – focus on local evangelization efforts and developing missionary skills in clergy, religious and pastoral leaders.

Benjamin Robbins worked for weeks with his art teacher to ensure his rendering of the archangel Gabriel would be sufficiently vibrant. (Alixandra Holden/Pontifical Mission Societies)

Robbins created his submission last year while in eighth grade at St. Teresa of Calcutta School in Schwenksville, working with art teacher Cathy Carpenter for weeks to ensure the colors were sufficiently vivid.

In October, Robbins’ design received a nod from the archdiocesan Pontifical Mission Societies office, which conferred its own artwork award during the annual World Mission Sunday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

Archdiocesan-level contest winners also included Ellis Borrasso (St. Laurentius, Philadelphia); Vincent Peter Cipriani (St. Eleanor, Collegeville); Angelina Dang (St. Jerome, Philadelphia); Dashiell Greenawalt (St. Peter the Apostle, Philadelphia); Fiona Gribbin (St. Mary Magdalen, Media); Lucas A. Santoro (Maternity B.V.M., Philadelphia); Gwyneth Seery (SS. Joseph and Robert, Warrington); Marguerite Somers (St. James, Ridley Park); Natalia Tomczak (Regina Coeli, Abington); Thu Tran (Holy Innocents, Philadelphia); and Kiera Williamson (St. Anastasia, Newtown Square).

And for kids looking to add their names to next year’s list of local and national winners, now is the time to start, said Michele Meiers and Alixandra Holden of the archdiocesan Pontifical Mission Societies: all students in grades K through 8 are invited to visit phillymissions.org to download the 2021-2022 entry form — and start drawing.

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Alixandra Holden contributed to this report.