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Belen Exhibit At Arzobispado de Manila

A Belen exhibit opened at the Arzobispado de Manila on December 15, the even of the traditional Christmas practice of Simbang Gabi. Fr. Genaro O. Diwa, head of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission Manila (ALCM), blessed and opened the display of nativity crèches mounted at the lobby of the Arzobispado building in Intramuros.

The yearly Belen exhibit started five years ago with the modest collection of Fr. Diwa, placed on a table near the entrance of the (ALCM) office at the second floor. Friends and visitors who saw the exhibit began adding to the collection. This year there are over a hundred crèches from different parts of the world such as Peru, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Mexico, China, Italy, Spain, Mongolia, and others. There a many Filipino interpretation of the belen some even featuring the native lechon. The renditions also incorporate various artistic media and materials. The smallest crèche comes in an egg-sized container while the biggest occupies one big table.

Fr. Diwa says that the meaning of Christmas, and of our faith, can be gleaned from the Belen and a quiet, prayerful contemplation before it can deepen the understanding of the Season. The exhibit will last all throughout the Christmas Season.

The exhibit also provides an explanation of the origin of the nativity crèche, written by Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo, S.J., as provided below:

Christmas with St. Francis and the Belen 
Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo, SJ
(an excerpt)

As Advent was ending, Francis of Assisi called his old friend Giovanni Bellita, a landowner in the region. "Go before me to Greccio and prepare everything as I tell thee. I desire to represent the birth of the Child in Bethlehem in such a way that with the eyes of our bodies we may see all that he suffered for lack of the things for a new-born Baby, and how He lay in the manger between the ox and the ass. At midnight we will celebrate Mass over the manger before all the people.

St. Bonaventure has described the scene for us. The people came, walking through the woods, over the winding roads, going up and down the hills, bearing torches and singing hymns in the night; a particularly clear and lovely night, we are told. "The forest resounded with their voices," Bonaventure writes. "That memorable night was made glorious by many brilliant lights and joyful psalms of praise." The entrance to the cave was open, and the multitude crowded the slopes around it, "those behind craning their necks to get a view of what was happening within."

Francis, at that time a deacon, read the Gospel in his strong, clear voice, and then preached to the people, "of sweet things on the birth of the poor king in little Bethlehem. Whenever he announced the name of Jesus, his mouth was filled not only with his voice, but also with the tender overflowing emotion he felt with his soul." All those present were moved powerfully by his words, and all their attention was focused on the mystery of the holy birth of the Babe in the manger. As for Francis, at that moment "he was no longer in Greccio, his heart was in Bethlehem."

May our hearts be simple enough this Christmas to kneel with Francis before the Belen. May we become enough like little children to let the radiant beauty of God in the Christ-child touch our souls and open them to mystery and faith. In the half-light of the cave of Bethlehem, may we be embraced by amazement and longing, so that Mary's child and God's own Son may enter into our lives again, as a gift which is greater than all we could hope for. May all our pain and weariness, our anxiety and distress, our fears and doubts fall from us, and may "the dear Christ" touch with newness all things within us so that we may believe and know, that we are truly accepted by the Father; that we are infinitely cherished and incredibly loved.