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Bethlehem Walk provides opportunity to see life at the birth of Jesus

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Visitors to Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville Dec. 15 and 16 will have the opportunity to witness the first Christmas as part of the second annual Bethlehem Walk.

Visitors become part of the census, watching Joseph and Mary look for lodging. With no room at the inn, Mary and Joseph are found outside the church in a stable among live farm animals.

Last year more than 2,000 people made the journey, despite bitter cold. This year, those waiting outside will find some relief with space heaters along the way, said Margi Loesel, catechist at Holy Trinity Church.

Loesel, Lisa Gogal and Carrie Hall had the vision last year to put together the Bethlehem Walk after Loesel experienced it at the Parkwood Baptist Church in Annandale.

“Our hope is to reorient society to make Christ the King of Christmas,” said Loesel.

The atmosphere inside the church is chaotic, she said, as people experience Bethlehem during the annual census. Visitors are greeted first by King Herod and later meet the Three Wise Men.

“After they receive an introduction to the event by Tom Heim, they will enter into the sanctuary to hear of the Good News of Great Joy by the angel,” said Loesel. “Women at the well outside of Bethlehem will remind them that they have to pay taxes, and then the Roman tax collector will take their money.”

Visitors also meet a baker, wine maker, fruit seller, cloth seller, carpenter, innkeepers, a rabbi, wool carder, butcher, potter and a cobbler. 

But when they step outside, the contrast is stark.

“Last year, people were joking around inside seeing their fellow parishioners dressed in costumes,” said Loesel. “Outside, no one even spoke to the Holy Family. They approached the stable with reverence.”

With the manger illuminated and a live baby, Loesel said there was recognition of the beauty of the moment.

“Hopefully they took away that babies are irresistible and Jesus came to us in this irresistible form,” she said.

The walk became an opportunity for catechesis.

“Kids asked questions, and parents and grandparents answered questions about their faith,” said Loesel.

After people finish their journey through Bethlehem, they are given an invitation to Christmas Mass and the chance to warm up in the hospitality tent.

Last year’s event brought parishioners closer and more are participating this year, said Loesel. A parishioner helped cover expenses last year and will again this year.

“Without his support, I don’t know what we would do,” she said.    


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016