Francis Inaugurates the First Christmas Crib
The spirituality of Francis derives from his clear and constant focus on Jesus Christ, the God who shares our humanity. Francis saw the self-imposed poverty and humility of Jesus as the gateway to our saving encounter with God. This so overwhelmed the poor man of Assisi that he sought to follow, in strictest poverty, the Christ who loved us without limit.
To drive home the astonishing humility with which God embraced the human condition, the Saint decided visually to re-create the Bethlehem experience in a cave among the hills of central Italy. In the year 1223, carrying a small infant in his arms, Francis led the people of Greccio in procession with their various farm animals to a grotto where the Saint made the Christmas liturgy itself a dramatic celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation.
Though Francis considered himself unworthy to be a priest, he had been ordained a deacon so that he could preach the Gospel with the blessing of the Church. At Greccio, wearing the dalmatic, the vestment of a deacon, he proclaimed the Christmas Gospel at Mass and, with his simple gesture of placing an infant in the manger, forever imprinted our hearts and minds with the love of God made flesh in Bethlehem’s tiny child. Many of the villagers were amazed at the rediscovery of this great mystery, and believed they saw St. Francis holding the Child Jesus. In his own words, St. Francis said, "I want to celebrate seriously the coming of the Son of God upon the earth, and see with my own eyes how poor and miserable He wished to be for our sakes."
Thus Francis began a tradition that persists to this day: the Christmas crèche.
St. John Bosco
Saint John Bosco was born in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy in 1815. Brought up in a peasant family and raised by a widowed mother, John endured many hardships in pursuit of an education and growth in the Christian life. He demonstrated great initiative and creativity at a very early age and learned magic tricks and acrobatics in an attempt to gather an audience so that he could evangelize and catechize the children and adults of his town.
After his ordination to the priesthood, he settled in the industrial town of Turin which was flooded by peasants in search of work. "Don" Bosco focused his efforts on ministry to the orphans and working children of the city and established homes called oratories where they could live, learn productive trades, and be educated in the faith. In the face of much resistance by anti-clerical politicians and unfriendly churchmen, his oratories grew so quickly that by 1868 over 800 boys were under his care. As if this work were not enough, he wrote and printed countless pamphlets that popularized Catholic teaching and answered the objections of anti-Catholics and secularists and as a result, several attempts were made on his life.
Miracles reported by numerous eyewitnesses accompanied his work, including the multiplication of food. He was also known to receive supernatural guidance from God in the form of vivid dreams which he often reccounted to his companions.
To ensure the continuation of his work, St. John Bosco founded a religious congregation named in honor of one of his favorite saints, St Francis de Sales. This holy saint died in 1888, but today John Bosco's Salesians continue his work all over the world.