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He is King in Bethlehem and Plumpton

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Olivia Mulligan plays Mary in a live Nativity scene at Good Shepherd Parish in Plumpton on 15 December. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Olivia Mulligan plays Mary in a live Nativity scene at Good Shepherd Parish in Plumpton on 15 December. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Good Shepherd Parish in Plumpton transported parishioners back to the birth of Jesus for Christmas this year, inspired by both the baby in a manger and the 800th anniversary of the first Nativity scene.

Fr John Nguyen OFM Cap and the Franciscan friars in Plumpton put on carols and a live Nativity scene on 15 December, to celebrate the first ever Nativity scene by the founder of their order, St Francis of Assisi.

The stunning live Nativity began with a play of the first Christmas in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, and then transformed into the cave in Greccio, recreating what St Francis achieved on Christmas Eve in 1223.

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“When St Francis arrived in the town, the people’s hearts had turned cold to Christ,” said Fr John.

“Deciding to recreate Christ’s birth with the very first Nativity scene, he picked up baby Jesus and witnesses say the statue then came alive. From that moment the hearts in Greccio warmed again. Christ came alive in their hearts.”

The same warmth could be found in the hearts of over 200 children and adults at the Plumpton parish as Mary entered the church car park-turned-Christmas creche, with Joseph guiding the donkey.

“I believe what St Francis understood in that original reenactment was that experiencing the nativity firsthand is powerful. Christianity is not a hypothetical or a figment of our imaginations,” said Olivia Mulligan, who played Mary in the Nativity scene.

First-year Capuchin postulant Stephen Noone had the opportunity to put on the habit for the first time, playing St Francis in the Greccio nativity.

He believes there is a lot to learn from St Francis and the effect of his first Nativity.

“It seems that in the life of St Francis, he wanted to live the Gospel, not just to think about it and understand it, but actually to have it look like something in his own life,” he said.

“Just as God’s love for us ‘looks like something’ in the Incarnation, so St Francis’ love and our love for God needs to ‘look like something.’ In this instance, it looked like bringing Christ to life in the Nativity.”

Fr John said he hoped hearts of the parishioners would be alive with Christ this Christmas.

“Our saviour is born and dwells among us. That is the Incarnation and one of the most important themes in the life of St Francis,” he said.

“Sharing in that Incarnation with others is what we as Franciscans are called to do.”

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