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A Christmas Journey

12/1/2014

Rick Snizek

Young people, followed by three members of the Knights in the role of the Three Magi, participate in St. Mary Cathedral School’s annual Posada in Austin, Texas, Dec. 15, 2013. (Photo by Arlen Nydam)

December snow flurries swirled about St. Dominic Church in Swansea, Mass., as Mary and Joseph set out in search of a suitable place to give birth to the Christ Child. On this wintry Sunday, the seaside hamlet south of Boston may not have resembled first-century Bethlehem, but a hardy crowd of parishioners was warmed by the true spirit of Christmas that filled their quaint church.

The occasion was the third annual Christmas Posada hosted by Bishop James E. Cassidy Council 3669 last year. Those in attendance had come to witness a traditional play of Hispanic origin commemorating Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging, or posada. A pair of local high school students portrayed Mary and Joseph, while other young people had adopted a host of supporting roles.

Those in attendance also came to aid the homeless and others in need, placing donations in a basket following the performance.

“Every year we have more participants,” said Grand Knight Bill Bouchard of Council 3669. “Parishioners donate food and costumes, and people from other parishes are joining in as well.”

La Posada is a time-honored tradition that can be traced back to 16th century Spanish missionaries and their quest to evangelize the New World. Since the Christmas Posada was launched as a Supreme Council program in 2011, K of C councils throughout North America have increased awareness of this largely Hispanic tradition and have found creative ways to make the Holy Family’s journey come to life in their communities.

MAKING FAITH REAL

The young people participating in the Posada at St. Dominic Church were garbed in traditional costumes calling to mind the time of Christ’s birth. With assistance from fellow cast and family members, they had carefully designed woven head coverings and matching cloaks to evoke the chill of the desert night that Joseph and his pregnant wife had to endure. In a nod to the ongoing popularity of the Posada in Latin America, the organizers also added a modern flair to their production, with some of the young travelers donning colorful sombreros and ponchos.

During the performance in St. Dominic’s parish center, Mary and Joseph start out alone on their journey, slowly circling the perimeter of the hall and weaving among members of the audience as they search for an innkeeper with room to spare. At each stop, the couple is turned away. But after hearing of their plight, more and more participants join the couple on their journey toward Bethlehem, with Scripture readings and songs complementing each stop on the road to the manger. By the time Mary and Joseph reach their destination, located before the altar, the entire congregation has joined the procession.

Father Joseph Viveiros, pastor of St. Dominic Parish and chaplain of Council 3669, explained that the Posada is a “religious experience,” not simply a retelling or dramatization of biblical events to be enjoyed on a cold winter’s day.

“We’re trying to make our faith real to young people,” Father Viveiros added.

Father Viveiros first invited the council to sponsor a parish Posada in 2011, inspired by the Supreme Council’s Christmas Posada program. From the outset, the event was also conceived as a way to benefit those in need.

“The Posada is about the Holy Family looking for a place at the inn,” explained Father Viveiros. “If we put out a donation basket, we should give that to the homeless, because that’s what Joseph and Mary and Jesus were that night — they were without a home.”

Originally, the council considered collecting things like clothes and blankets at the event, but staff members at the St. Vincent de Paul-run homeless shelter in nearby Fall River, Mass., explained that their homeless guests could really use gift cards to purchase food during the day.

Last year, council members used the money collected at the Posada, along with a donation by the council, to purchase $500 worth of food cards. A month later, the Knights personally distributed the cards at the Fall River shelter.

Deacon Frank Lucca, a council member who leads the parish’s youth ministry, said that young parishioners are given an integral role in producing the annual Posada so they can see for themselves how their efforts can benefit the community.

“They’re a part of the parish,” he explained. “We don’t look upon them any differently because they are young, as St. Timothy would say.”

Hannah Barlow, 15, portrayed one of the innkeepers at last year’s Posada and serves on the parish’s youth council.

“We’re helping to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless,” she said. “These people have absolutely nothing. They depend on going to soup kitchens every day to eat.”

BEARING GIFTS

Nearly 1,700 miles to the southwest on a sunny December morning in Austin, Texas, St. Mary Cathedral was hosting its own Posada celebration last year with the support of St. Mary Cathedral Council 14055. Staged at the Donahue Center Gymnasium, adjacent to the cathedral, religious education students from the cathedral’s urban Catholic elementary and middle school have gathered with parishioners for this special event.

In Austin’s version of the Posada, live animals from a local farm, including donkeys, goats and lambs, play their part in the biblical menagerie. The readings and songs are also performed in multiple languages.

The Posada started at St. Mary Cathedral three years ago thanks to the efforts of Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez Jr., a member of Council 14055 and co-director of diaconal formation for the Diocese of Austin. Like Father Viveiros in Massachusetts, he envisioned the Posada as a way to offer a concrete expression of charity to the children in the audience.

“About 80 percent are inner city children whose parents are very poor,” said Deacon Rodriguez.

Many of the parishioners, whom Deacon Rodriguez knows personally through his work with religious education, have emigrated from Mexico. Although they can find some work to support and feed their families, there usually isn’t enough money left over to purchase toys at Christmastime.

In response, council member Frank Fuentes made a sizeable donation of toys for distribution at the annual event. As the celebration concludes, the Magi approach from the East. The Three Wise Men entering the scene are actually Knights bearing gifts for the children in attendance, whose numbers have reached as high as 350 over the past two years.

“It really creates something in the hearts of the children,” Deacon Rodriguez said. “You can see that star in their eyes.”

Deacon Rodriguez, who has fond memories of celebrating the Posada in southern Texas during his own childhood, added that he hopes that the children will continue to celebrate the Posada when they get older.

In supporting their parishes and encouraging acts of charity during the Christmas season, the Knights have seen that Posada celebrations have helped to galvanize their councils as well. In Massachusetts, Council 3669 has had a marked increase in membership since the annual event began.

It has also left an enduring impression on the young people who have participated, including two former youth group members who have joined the Order.

“I grew up Catholic and from a young age was influenced to help the poor,” said Andrew Jacome, 20, a student at UMass Dartmouth and the youngest member of Council 3669. “That’s something I admire about the Knights.”

RICK SNIZEK is editor of Rhode Island Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Providence, R.I.