This year, the nativity scene on the front lawn of the Saint Susanna Parish looks a little different.
Yes, inside the traditional wooden structure visitors can still see the biblical characters of Mary and Joseph staring lovingly at their baby Jesus. But tacked on the walls above them are 16 blue planks, each one a sobering remembrance.
SAN BERNARDINO 14. VIRGINIA TECH 32. LAS VEGAS CONCERT 58. AURORA THEATER 12.
This year parishioners at this church in Dedham, a suburb of Boston, decided to blend the annual crèche with the ongoing national conversation about gun violence. Each plank states the location and number of people killed in one of 16 mass shootings in the US.
The idea to bring gun violence into the Christmas display came from the parish’s Pax Christi group, a Catholic peace organization. The church’s pastor, Steve Josoma, picked which shootings to commemorate.
The point is to show, during a traditional season of peace, that mass shootings are happening all over the country, in all kinds of places, says Pax Christi coordinator Patricia Ferrone.
“All of the positive associated with Jesus that we all aspire to, yet we have a world that’s an awful mess,” Ferrone told CNN. The idea “is really just trying to make connections to show the contrast, in a certain sense, with the way of Jesus and the way of violence.”
Ferrone said St. Susanna didn’t worry about a backlash because it “felt like a clear thing to do.”
The Pax Christi group always addresses issues of peace, justice and violence at Christmas time, she said. Last year, they handed out ornaments discouraging parishioners from buying toys of violence for their children.
“I think that we have to become more comfortable talking about these (issues) more,” Ferrone said. “These are serious issues and to gloss over them is to forget they’re important.”
But they also don’t want to put a damper on the season or criminalize anyone. Along with the display comes prayer for the families affected by these shootings, their victims and even the perpetrators of such violence.
On the outside of the display is a banner that reads: “If only you knew the things that make for peace.” It’s a quote from the gospel of Luke that dovetails with the parish’s push for open conversations about Christian values.
“It really is rooted in our faith, in our belief that Jesus came with a particular message,” Ferrone said. “We’re trying to figure that out and act accordingly, as best as we can.”