Ten Minutes By the Crib
Approximately 500 visitors despite of snow on the first day – "White Christmas" 2001 in Schoenstatt
SCHOENSTATT,mkf. Approximately 500 visitors at the opening of the "Ten minutes by the Crib" on December 26, despite of snow and bad road conditions: also in the fifth year, this Christmas initiative has not lost its "magnetism"; 8,000 persons joined in during the past Christmas season. Until January 8, day by day at 3:00 and 4:00 PM, people are invited to the crib in the Adoration Church on Mount Schoenstatt for a short meditation and Christmas caroling. All are afterwards invited to the nearby former stable to have Christmas tea and cookies. – Schoenstatt saw "White Christmas" this year; the Christmas festivities at the place of origin and beyond were marked by the joy in the re-opening of the Original Shrine, and the 60th anniversary of Father Kentenich's "prison Christmas" and the birth of the mariengarten(garden of Mary)and by the wish to concentrate on the essential in view of September 11th, and the crises in India, Pakistan, the Holy Land, Argentina and many other places.
"I come because of the self-made cookies," said a middle-aged man while leaving the Adoration Church on December 26, holiday in Germany; his companion nods. In the church, the tone of a traditional Christmas carol resounds, performed by Sr. Mariengund with keyboard and Sr. Rosa Maria with guitar, who are accompanied by at least 30 children, many of them toddlers, who make "joyful noise" with bells, tambourines, rattles or just their voices. "But," the visitor continues, "this here has an impact, somewhere deep inside." This here – these are simple texts that don't carry the visitors away from their every day life to an island of bliss but lead them and their every day life – the sick grandmother, and September 11, the last e-mail, and the wildfires in Australia - to the child in the crib. "We come here since the first year, " a man from Höhr proudly shares. "We don't bring our children any more, but next Sunday we'll come with our nephew. But this is not only for children. We just come for our own Christmas."
Light of Peace from Bethlehem
The children are the center of interest and involved from the very beginning. Some make a solemn entrance as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and angels (sometimes the costumes are not enough, but a scarf is enough to become a shepherd!), others, dressed in yellow robes, carry candles and the light from Bethlehem, guarded in Schoenstatt since two years, reminding all of the Christians in Bethlehem and their somber Christmas. All of the children are invited to accompany the carols with bells and to swing colorful cardboard stars to the rhythm of the music. Many of the children know where to go and what to do – they come each year. "Our Mara came here since she was three," the mother of a slender girl said. She is eight and preparing for her first Holy Communion. "This is her childhood Christmas! Since days she only talks about going to Schoenstatt again!"
"Then, a new light is incited in us , a durable peace will reign in our hearts, and a contagious joy will be written on our faces," is said at the "Ten minutes by the crib" with the words of a prayer from Argentina. "And then we go home, maybe in silence : we make the dark of the night a little bit lighter, the nervousness of people a little bit calmer, and their sadness a bit more joyful..." – "Somehow that's true," a young woman said. "At least for a moment…"
My Star by the Crib
"Here I am again!" – Radiant with joy, a girl rushed to the corner with the shepherd's dresses. "Yesterday I was shepherd!" Martina Rasch of the Professionals who spends some days of vacation managing the children's program, asked her: "And what do you want to be today?" – A short break, then: "Today I want to be Mary!"
At 4:00PM on Thursday, only few children were present. While the adults wrote the names of their loved ones on paper stars to be placed by the crib, all of the children are involved with the candles and the light from Bethlehem. When they were ready, they were encouraged to take cardboard stars or bells. "Sorry, no time!", said a nine-year-old boy. "Got to get a star and write all my friends' names on it!"
Many of the participants are waiting for the "star moment": Christmas becomes very personal and real when the names of the divorced wife, the dying neighbor, the rebellious teenage son, the deceased mother, the friends in India, the Schoenstatt members in Argentina are written on a star and brought to the crib. Like each year, already days before Christmas people from all over the world sent names of loves ones via e-mail with the petition to write these names on stars…
During the whole afternoon, the former stable is open; Christmas tea and cookies are offered. Schoenstatt Sisters, families, mothers, professional women are there, serving, welcoming, sharing. For weeks, volunteers have prepared cookies and sent them bucket-wise to Schoenstatt; others helped to decorate the stable. Rustically and simple, a bit cold but homely: wooden benches, a Christmas tree, baby Jesus on real straw, and many people who talk with each other!
Christmas 2001 – for Many a Bit More Like Mary's Christmas 2000 Years Ago
September 11, the ongoing bloodshed in the Holy Land, the economical crisis in Argentina that irrupted on December 19/20 in violence and scare, India and Pakistan at the brink of war, Afghanistan, the threat of new terror, and the wildfires near Sydney, Australia that threatened the Shrine and Center´there, - all that and the more subtle threatening of human life, cast a shadow on Christmas 2001 - but maybe also gave this Christmas the chance to be more like the Christmas of Mary 2000 years ago and the Christmas of Father Kentenich 60 years ago. "It is a Christmas different to the ones we celebrated before," was read in several mails from Argentina; for many, it was a Christmas without gifts, fireworks and glamour, but "maybe we understood more of the essential of Christmas, of the sense of Christmas."
For the first time in 25 years, Schoenstatt saw White Christmas with radiant sun and blue skies, a winter wonderland. Fewer people than usual came to the Midnight Mass, due to the snow and bad road conditions. The Latin American and North American seminarians of the Schoenstatt Fathers participated in the Midnight Mass; families and youth from Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Mexico, England, Portugal made for a good international representation at the place of origin. Prayers were said for the Schoenstatt family and all people in the countries of crisis, catastrophes, terror, war: Australia, India, Pakistan, Holy Land, Argentina, Burundi.
The Founder Chapel is decorated with an abundance of roses, lilies and violets – a reminiscence to the 60th anniversary of the 60 Mariengarten. In the night of December 24, 1941, the letter sent by Sister with the name Mariengard (garden of Mary), Father Kentenich discovered the symbol for the in-one-anotherness and for-one-anotherness of the Schoenstatt family in the universal Covenant of Love in its deepest meaning.
In a sermon in one of the Masses here this morning, Fr. Walter referred to the old Marian Christmas song and legend - "Mary walked through a forest of thorn bushes -- and they began to blossom with roses, because she carried her child who is love and brings grace". He said that the thorns still existed but that who sees the roses does not argue about the thorns. He then compared it to the birth of the Mariengarten 60 years ago: in the dark and loneliness of a prison cell, in the pain of separation and distance, through the letter of Sr. Mariengard and the answer to this letter, a garden began to grow and blossom. The effect: the walls still were exiting, but they were no longer hindrances to communicate; the distance still exited, but it meant no longer separation; the cell was still in a prison but it was a piece of heaven at the same time, the site of grace: Love is stronger.
Original Shrine Re-opened for Christmas
Not only the snow, also a touch of Christmas already began on Sunday, as the Original Shrine after weeks of renovation was re-opened with the Holy Mass at 7:00 AM. It was terribly cold and dark on that morning, but to approach the Original Shrine and for the first time in weeks see the light shining from inside - that was really like going to the stable... "Your Shrine is our Bethlehem". The Pallottine Priest who said the Holy Mass chose the Christmas Gospel to underline the joy of the day, and pointed to the tension of "mighty" and "small" so often depicted in the Bible. God chooses the small ones - he chooses a small Shrine, he chooses to be a child - to work his miracles. During the Holy Night and on Christmas Day, many people visited the Original Shrine to pray. But many more were those from all continents who "transferred" themselves spiritually to this place of grace, asking that Christ may be born again for the entire world.
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