Youth of St. John Vianney Parish in Barrie, Ont., assumed different leadership roles at the Lux Vitae Christmas celebration Nov. 28, including performing a living Nativity. Photo by Mary French

Barrie churches generate Christmas light in the dark

By  Mary French, Youth Speak News
  • December 9, 2020

In times of adversity, people often search for some light to shed understanding and comfort. For 13-year-old Rachel Bearisto, this light was a new Christmas tradition begun amidst the restrictions COVID-19 has forced upon the holiday season.

She participated in “Lux Vitae,” an event inspired by the annual First Light festival usually celebrated at the Sainte-Marie among the Hurons living museum — Sainte-Marie was a 17th-century settlement for French Jesuits — in cooperation with the neighbouring Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ont. 

This year, due to the second wave of COVID-19, First Light was cancelled, which inspired Shannon Barks to create a smaller-scale version of the event among local churches. Following guidelines sanctioned by the local health unit, Barks and Berna Francavilla, the youth minister for St. John Vianney Parish in Barrie, Ont., conceptualized a new festival. Lux Vitae was staged Nov. 27 and 28 at four different parishes: Holy Spirit, St. John Vianney and St. Mary’s in Barrie and St. Paul’s in Alliston, Ont.

“The purpose was to help bring light in this time of darkness — to gather and offer hope and joy to people of our community,” said Barks. “And it really sparked a fire in our community with many people wanting to participate.”

Like First Light, participating parishes featured a lit candle path with vendor booths offering everything from purses with stitched artwork to car magnets bearing the message “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Among the vendors were the Knights of Columbus, who offered complimentary burgers and hot chocolate, and the CWL with a booth of homemade crafts.

The candlelit Christmas market featured a live Nativity scene, where families dressed up as the Holy Family with onlooking shepherds. Live music was provided by local youth singing both classic Christmas ballads as well as their own original songs.

Lux Vitae offered a light, a sense of normalcy and positivity, a refreshing turn from the grimmer events of today. Bearisto, a Grade 8 student at St. Monica’s Catholic School in Barrie, said the simple pleasure of sitting with a friend and laughing together while listening to live Christmas music set her Advent season off on a hopeful and thankful start. She was reminded of how Christ brings light to her life.

“To me, calling God Lux Vitae (light of life) means remembering and turning to Christ, recalling how He creates every day to make us happy,” she said. “I keep Him at the centre of my Christmas by thinking about Him the whole day, continually loving Him.”

Bearisto’s attentive gratitude to Christ and trust that He is continually listening has helped her get through difficult Christmases in the past, such as when her grandmother was sick. This year too, despite her inability to spend Christmas with family and friends because of COVID-19, Bearisto nonetheless finds solace in God’s goodness, with Lux Vitae offering a small gift of comfort. 

The youth of St. Mary’s Parish played a special role in witnessing this light for guests and parishioners. For some, it came in the form of music, their voices rising through the air in praise of the child who is to come. Other youth helped keep the light of Christ in Christmas by reenacting a live Nativity. Families, from youth in university to young toddlers, dressed up in the clothing of Christ’s time and created their own Nativity. Many guests gathered around to snap a shot of this scene.

Barks hopes the event will expand further in coming years, possibly encompassing more members of “We the North,” the collective youth ministries of parishes in the Barrie and Midhurst area. Come the end of COVID-19, Barks also hopes to further involve youth in the event by engaging them in different roles around the market.

(French, 22, has a Bachelor’s of Catholic Studies from Seat of Wisdom College and lives in Barrie Ont.)

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