A bishop in the north of Italy has sharply criticized the placement of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus in a migrant dinghy rather than a traditional manger in the town Nativity scene.
The mayor of the Italian town of Castenaso, Stefano Sermenghi, decided to place a small rubber boat at the center of the manger scene in order to draw attention to the plight of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.
In the crèche scene adorning the town square, the wooden figure of the Virgin Mary has been placed on board the rubber raft with the infant Jesus in her arms.
“We have been setting up a Nativity scene for the last fifteen years,” the mayor said, “and this time we wanted to underscore the problem related to the acceptance of migrants.”
An emeritus bishop of nearby Bologna, Ernesto Vecchi, criticized the move and told the Italian daily Il Resto del Carlino that the addition of the migrant dinghy to the Nativity scene was “out of place.”
“The central core of a nativity scene calls for a child in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, and this must be respected,” the bishop said.
“The most important part of the crib cannot be represented by a boat.”
The bishop added that it was conceivable to have a rubber raft present somewhere in the scene, but not at the very center in place of the traditional manger, as related by the biblical passage describing the Nativity.
Asked about the message the dinghy was intended to give, and reminded about Pope Francis’ call for a welcoming attitude toward migrants, the bishop said that one issue cannot take over the mystery of Christmas.
“I’m not saying a crèche cannot be enriched by other elements, and certainly, a boat is a symbol that reminds us of the need for hospitality,” he said, “but don’t forget that Jesus is the savior of every problem, not just one.”
“Jesus in the manger is the sign of God who was rich and became poor for us, that Christ died on the cross for us and his resurrection is also ours,” the bishop added.
“The intentions were good but woe to us if we distort the image of the manger scene,” the bishop concluded.
Local citizens seem to share in the bishop’s misgivings about the manger scene, and have expressed themselves in sharper tones than his.
“The latest idiocy from a mayor who no longer knows what to invent to draw attention to his crappy little party,” writes one Marco, referring to the mayor’s center-left Democratic party.
Another, identified as Paolo, asks why “the dear mayor Sermenghi didn’t put a nice basket of money in the place of the rubber raft to offer something besides pretty words to those poor artisans and businesspeople who have been beaten down by the crisis and especially by the taxes that his government has doubled?”
For his part, the mayor has remained unmoved in his decision.
“Many people in Italy open their mouths, but then nobody does anything to provide a positive welcome to those who arrive,” he said.