In some ways, St. Susanna Parish’s nativity scene looks just like many others: Onlookers gather to witness baby Jesus’ birth, animals crowd around the straw-covered manger, and the infant lies in the folds of Mary’s dress.
But in this version, the baby Jesus is trapped in a cage, and the three wise men are off to the side and separated by a fence marked “deportation.” Hanging above the display is a sign that reads, “Peace on Earth?”
The message? A rebuke of how immigrants are treated at the U.S. border, and a jarring recollection of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, which some referred to as “kids in cages.” In the summer, an Indianapolis church put up a similar display showing Jesus, Mary and Joseph surrounded by metal fencing.
“It doesn’t seem to be the message of the person whose birth we celebrate,” Father Steve Josoma said, according to WCVB. “Is this peace on Earth?” Is this what it would look like?”
The idea for the display came from the Pax Christi group within the church, whose aim is “to educate the community on matters related to peace and justice issues including war, torture, the environmental degradation of our world, and human rights and to bear witness to the hope of the gospel by bringing prayerful attention and courageous, loving resistance to those things that are disharmonious with God’s Kin-dom,” according to the parish website.
“It just makes the point that this would be unacceptable to Jesus,” parishioner Pat Ferrone said, according to WCVB.
It’s the second year the church has courted controversy with its nativity display. In 2017, the nativity scene featured signs showing the locations and death tolls of mass shootings across the country, WBZ reported. Across the top of the display was a quote from the Gospel of Luke, “If only you knew the things that make for peace.”
Josoma said this year’s display was meant to start conversation and make people think, the Boston Globe reported.
“We thought we would kind of put a mirror image of what it would look like if this happened 2,000 years ago,” Josoma said, according to the paper. “It’s kind of a mirror image of where we are at today.”
He pointed to refugees in particular, and how he felt they were being treated, Boston 25 reported.
“Sixty-five million refugees worldwide seeking a better way of life and we were wondering what that might look like 2,000 years ago if this family encountered the same dynamics that are taking place in our country right now,” Josoma said, according to the station.
He spoke about a recent incident at the border where agents shot tear gas into a crowd of migrants.
“It’s hard to say we are a people of peace when we are sending soldiers with tear gas to stop people,” Josoma said, according to the Boston Globe.
Reactions to the display have been mixed, with some saying they appreciated the idea and others wanting politics kept out of the nativity, Boston 25 reported. “The folks here seem to appreciate it,” said Josoma, according to the station.