With Public Nativities, Brooklyn Catholics Keep Christ in Christmas

Tags: Currents Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY, Christmas, Diocese of Brooklyn, Dyker Heights, Grand Army Plaza Christmas Tree, Nativity, Pope Francis

By Tim Harfmann

Nativities are mostly found underneath a Christmas tree — not on a New York City sidewalk.

But one in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn is on full display.

John Minero, who makes the display by hand, said the highlight of the masterpiece is baby Jesus.

“That’s the purpose, so the focus is on that,” he said.

It’s the same message Pope Francis is reinforcing this Christmas season. He just visited the Italian town where Saint Francis of Assisi built the first nativity. The pontiff wants to see them everywhere, in public and private — like schools, hospitals and town squares.

“God loves us to the point of sharing our humanity and our life,” he explained.

In this secular city some people disagree, but not John, who creates smaller nativity scenes, or presepios, in his basement.

John makes most of his presepio sets by screwing pieces of cork together, but he’s also made nativity scenes from old picture frames, parts of a tree, and even a glass water bottle.

For him, regardless of how they’re made, Christ remains the focal point.

“That’s what counts, you know, for religious people especially,” John added.

Over at Saint Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, bigger seems better. A life-size nativity draws hundreds traveling along Bay Parkway.

“This is, what I would say, a tool of evangelization because it makes people stop. It makes people think, and it makes people reflect on the true meaning of Christmas,” said Monsignor David Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius.

The true meaning of Christmas is also on display at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza.

The mastermind behind the crèche and Christmas tree, Mark Steele, says for the most part, passersby enjoy having the religious symbols in a public space.

“Once you start seeing the trees arrive and all these installations going, you know it’s just around the corner,” said Mark, noting that a crèche is the only reason for the season.