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Korean Xmas cribs highlight war, peace and charity

The nativity scene at Muk-dong Catholic Church in Seoul is a reminder of the impact of the Israel–Gaza conflict
The unique Christmas crib is seen at Muk-dong Catholic Church in Seoul.

The unique Christmas crib is seen at Muk-dong Catholic Church in Seoul. (Photo: Catholic Times) 

Published: December 22, 2023 03:29 AM GMT
Updated: December 22, 2023 09:21 AM GMT

Catholic parishes in the South Korean capital Seoul have set up unique Christmas nativity scenes depicting war scenes, and handwritten Bible manuscripts to raise awareness about suffering and charity.

The nativity scene titled “War and peace, life and death,” is a reminder of the impact of the Israel — Gaza conflict, said Father Song Cha-seon, parish priest of the Muk-dong Catholic Church.

“I planned the [nativity scene] to help believers look at [it] and meditate on what it means and what message it will give,” Song said.

“There is definitely a reason for the baby Jesus to come because our hearts are devastated as we look at the terrible war taking place in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip in the Middle East today,” Song added.

The nativity scene consists of small statues of the Child Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. However, the stable and its surroundings represent the devastation faced by Gazans.

The walls of the stable have been shown as partially collapsed with the roof having holes in various places and supported by a single post.

A basket of food is seen toppled and the contents scattered all over the place.

Machine guns, scattered shell casings, remains of buildings collapsed by bombings, and charred trees are also shown in the nativity scene.

An electric pole is also shown to have sustained so much damage as if it would collapse at anytime.

Song pointed out that the nativity scene was placed with a special meaning, “which changed the community's attitude toward Christmas."

Starting next year, the parish plans to produce a Christmas crib with a theme selected through a contest among parish members.

Gwangjang-dong parish in Seoul has set up a nativity scene and Christmas tree from 410 Bible notes from the New Testament written by 90 of its parishioners.

Francis Lee Yang-moo, head of the education department at the parish said the experience of preparing the tree brought him closer to the Bible and the parishioners were impressed with the result.

“The believers who thought it was an ordinary tree are coming closer and seeing the written notes attached,” Lee said.

The parishioners “are amazed that it is a tree whose pillars and branches are made up of the [Bible verses],” he added.

The bottom of the tree was supported by a wooden piece, and handwritten notes were inserted vertically into each tier.

Umyeon-dong parish in Seoul has set up its Christmas “Hope Tree,” which is decorated with the names of the donors to its ‘Very Precious” shelter for lonely, middle-aged people in operation since 2019.

In a Dec. 2 event organized by Betania’s house, the donors were awarded wings with their names written on them, and the same was later hung on the Christmas tree on Dec. 14.

Lucia Shim Jae-oh said she was happy that she got the opportunity to become an “angel of hope’ this year.

“I wanted to donate, but I didn’t know where or how to do it, but [they] recommended a meaningful place, so I was able to donate [happily],” she said.

Father Byun Woo-chan, the parish priest, said he was happy about welcoming the Christmas season and “wanted to include the love of believers in the tree.”

“I hope the [Christmas] tree can show that ‘love’ is more beautiful than any fancy decoration,” he added.

Highlighting social and environmental issues during Christmas celebrations is common in South Korea.

Last year Seoul Archdiocese installed a Christmas tree with charred branches and logs of trees from a forest fire in Gangwon-do to raise awareness of environmental issues and the climate crisis.

South Korea had some 5.9 million Catholics among its total population of 52.6 million in 2022, Vatican’s Fides news agency reported earlier this year.

** This report is brought to you in partnership with the Catholic Times of Korea.

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