The life-sized Nativity scene outside St. Francis of Assisi parish is a tradition that dates back to the early 1970s. Photo by Evan Boudreau

St. Francis of Assisi tradition carries on

  • December 23, 2012

TORONTO - Since the early 1970s parishioners at downtown Toronto’s St. Francis of Assisi parish have honoured their namesake and Jesus Christ with a life-sized Nativity scene. 

“It is fitting that the church bearing the name of St. Francis of Assisi continues in a tradition begun by St. Francis himself,” said Ricardo Aleixo, the parish’s sacristan. “St. Francis of Assisi created the first Nativity scene in 1223, in a cave near Greccio, Italy. It was St. Francis’ way of putting the emphasis of Christmas on the worship of Jesus Christ rather than the secular materialism of gift giving.”

A modest Nativity scene began regularly appearing on the lawn outside of the parish in the 1950s thanks to the efforts of the St. Francis Holy Name Society. When the parish’s ushers took over the task of erecting the display in the 1970s, under the leadership of Pasquale Martino, life-sized figures were ordered from Italy and have been part of the Christmas season ever since.

Martino continued to lead the efforts until his health no longer permitted him to do so in the late 1990s.

“Nowadays the Nativity scene is assembled by five to six volunteers from the parish within a few days,” said Aleixo, who’s been at the parish for the past 16 years. “Work on the Nativity scene starts towards the end of November, as we always have the Nativity scene ready and complete for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Despite our limited resources in manpower we continue to do our best to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour.”

The Nativity scene, which was scaled back in 2004 to accommodate ongoing restoration work to the church, remains up until the Feast of the Epiphany.

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