Santa Village at Asan Gongseri Holy Land in Daejeon Diocese in South Korea. (Photo: Catholic Times)
Crowds of South Korean pilgrims including children, young people and adults have been flocking to a “Santa Village” that seeks to welcome Jesus and heal the wounds of the coronavirus during Christmas.
Asan Gongseri Holy Land in Daejeon Diocese has been transformed into Santa Village by a priest, a nun and children in front of Gongseri Cathedral.
Santa Village opened on Dec. 1 and will run until Jan. 3. Every day it welcomes hundreds of visitors from 5am to midnight.
LED lights decorate seven cherry trees on the right side of the entrance to the village and 17 pine trees on the left. The nativity scene in the middle is also illuminated with LED lights.
With all trees on the hillside decorated with LED lights, lights on the top of the castle and large torches held by life-size figurines of Our Lady, Santa Village sparkles as dusk descends.
Father Hong Gwang-cheol, the parish priest, said the reason he set up Santa Village was to touch the hearts of people who are still suffering due to the coronavirus and to encourage them to come to the church for Christmas Mass.
“When Mass was stopped due to Covid-19, I was heartbroken. Although Mass has resumed, attendance is only a third compared to normal times. If the current trend [of the coronavirus] continues, it is obvious there will be a limited number of Mass attendees,” Father Hong said.
The priest plans to make the whole place beautiful in order to allow small groups to attend Christmas Mass at intervals throughout the holy place. Large monitors will be installed everywhere.“I will celebrate Mass in the cathedral, but people will be able to attend Mass while watching the monitors by gathering separately not only in the cathedral but also in the front yard or in front of the museum,” the priest said.
Sister Yun Eprem, the nun in charge of decorating Santa Village, expressed joy despite the hard work in November.
“During November I couldn’t take a day off,” the nun said, adding she was delighted to see people visiting the village regularly.
Santa Village also encourages visitors to donate to the poor and needy during the festive season.
A large tent set up in the village offers gloves, hats and clothes as Christmas gifts, with the proceeds going to a women’s welfare group in Daejeon to help the poor and disabled.
About 29 percent of South Korea’s population of 51 million are Christians, including 5.6 million Catholics.