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Christians and Muslims gather around crib in Antioch

by Mavi Zambak

AsiaNews

Antioch (AsiaNews) – Christmas is on the doorstep. Here in Antioch, in the south of Turkey, it comes silently, without the ostentatious display of lights on the streets, the exasperating violence of publicity screaming on newspapers and television, the attraction of shop windows decorated with glitter, the amazing fantasy of cribs and Christmas trees, the tunes that fill the air with sweet melodies, the rush of last-minute shopping of gifts to make sure no one gets upset.

But this lack does nothing to diminish the desire to welcome the Child Jesus in a fitting manner, decorating our church “as for a feast”, with flowers, candles and new cloths, and above all with the crib to celebrate and illustrate the great mystery of God made man, weak and defenceless; to exult together for His Light which has torn the shadows apart… and to be a sign and a memory of an event so great and supernatural, lived out in hiding and in anonymity, in meagre daily “banalities”. And our crib becomes an attraction for young and old alike.

It is the memory of a historical, groundbreaking event. The visit to the Church is an appointment very dear to many, Christians and otherwise. The streams of children in their blue uniforms are accompanied by teachers who introduce them thus: “They would like to see the church and most of all the crib. It’s their first time. We know a great feast is approaching for you and we would like to share it with you”.

A simple crib, with the classic figures, angels and sheep, the mountains of papier mache and the hut of wood: however for children, it always proves to be enchanting.

And it is the teachers – obviously Muslim – who usually explain to them: “On Christmas Day, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, a prophet sent by God to bring peace, love and brotherhood; to teach us to love each other. And he truly wants us to imitate him if we want to live according to God’s will. Jesus was a good person and the shepherds knew that… this is why when he was just born, they went to praise and to pray to him…”

Not one word can be heard then, eyes are shut, mouths wide open, enchanted by the lights and the statues.

In these days, visitors will come one after the other. The most interested seem to be adults who look upon the great mystery depicted in the crib with curiosity, seeking to understand something of this God born in a grotto and capable of transforming life, bringing love and peace even to the most tormented hearts. Many come here to ask themselves what Christians find so special and “powerful”” about this newborn prophet.