Donkey drew attention, but preparing for Jesus was focus of Advent ‘journey’
EAST PEORIA — The 150 voices sweetly singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” as they recreated Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem were joined by a shrill shout as the procession neared a stable erected on the Franciscan motherhouse grounds.
“Hee-haw, hee-haw,” chimed in Buckeye the donkey, making his voice heard for the first time during a live Nativity program hosted Sunday afternoon by The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.
The first-time effort celebrated the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi creating the first Christmas crèche in a cave at Greccio, Italy, in 1223.
And while Buckeye, who led the procession until he chose not to, drew a lot of attention — as did a pair of goats also present — the focus on this First Sunday of Advent was preparation to welcome Someone else.
“We start today with this journey to Bethlehem where we come to find the great story of God’s love for us,” said Father Don Roszkowski, motherhouse chaplain. He addressed the crowd as the outdoor procession that began at the motherhouse entrance paused in the shadow of a statue of St. Francis.
“COME IN, JESUS”
CDressed in a top hat and with a walking stick, Father Roszkowski recounted that St. Francis felt if people could see the scene of Jesus’ birth, “how could your heart not be changed?”
Noting the current popularity of gender reveal parties, Father Roszkowski added that “today Jesus is going to reveal himself to you — the manifestation of God’s love.”
The donkey then brushed up against the priest.
“Buckeye wants me to stop talking,” quipped Father Roszkowski.
The procession continued to a motherhouse doorway representing the inn. There, Father Roszkowski told of a Nativity program put on years ago by second graders at St. Paul School in Odell. A boy named Bobby portrayed the innkeeper whose only line was to be “There’s no room at the inn.”
Instead, when the students dressed as Mary and Joseph came to the door, Bobby paused and ad libbed “Come right on in!”
Asked to explain why he changed his only line, Bobby said “I just can’t imagine somebody saying no to Jesus.”
“How is it that we are saying ‘Come in, Jesus . . . come into my heart, and come into the door of my life,’” Father Roszkowski asked the group before the procession continued to the stable. “Jesus is coming to be close to you, so very close to you, beyond your imagination.”
ARRIVAL AT THE STABLE
The wooden stable, surrounded by a bed of straw, was strategically placed near the base of the motherhouse’s bell tower. Instead of the Bethlehem star, the cross atop the bell tower pointed to the Savior’s imagined birthplace.
Mary and Joseph, portrayed by Faustina Hoerdeman and Phillip Rupert, entered the stable. There were no more words necessary, just songs of rejoicing as Mary lifted Baby Jesus (a doll on this chilly day) from a straw-filled manger. The crowd — including Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, major superior, and many of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis as well as other religious communities — formed a semi-circle around the scene.
Father Roszkowski knelt in front of the stable and tipped his hat in honor of the newborn King. The donkey and goats — shepherded by Renee Humphrey (donkey) with help from Sister Theresa Ann Brazeau, OSF, and Dawn Tanner and Brianna Aberle (goats) — grazed silently nearby. Choir members from OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria led those assembled in the Gloria followed by “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Afterward, Sister Judith Ann invited the many children present to pose with the Holy Family and the animals. The guests were then welcomed into the motherhouse for refreshments.
“Today as we start our Advent season,” asked Father Roszkowski, “how is it you can see Jesus and be more adoring to our good Lord and Savior?”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Additional photos from this event have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.