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Falls Church students transform school gym into Christmas chapel

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Father Matthew H. Zuberbueler had a vision, and St. Anthony of Padua School in Falls Church made it a reality. The pastor of St. Anthony came up with the idea a month ago and began explaining the concept to the faculty. Then the students went to work. 

Children of all ages colored segments of a large picture in their classes. Eighth graders glued the pictures to carboard boxes and painted the remaining sides white to resemble stone columns. Rope was strung between the basketball hoops of the school gym. Large sheets of blue paper were dotted with yellow stars. Everything was ready for the Bethlehem chapel. 

During mid-morning Dec. 21, the St. Anthony community gathered in the school gym, where unbeknownst to them, the pictures they had colored, now glued to boxes, were scattered throughout the room. A few were stacked in columns at the front of the gym.

Like a game show host, Father Zuberbueler picked students out of the bunch to carry boxes up to the front. With a little help from their classmates, they completed the puzzle, filling each space with the right box to reveal the whole picture — Bethlehem on Christmas night. 

“Thank you, boys and girls, for helping put that together because it reminds us of something very important — we are all together able to build up God’s kingdom,” said Father Zuberbueler. “When Jesus came, it really is true that the world was in darkness and disorder and chaos, and Jesus came in the quietest way you can imagine.”

Students Allison Dunnegan and Damian Salazar help Josiah Rose put a piece of the nativity scene into place. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

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Then, most of the school left as eighth graders and teachers disassembled the wall, turning the boxes into individual columns. The starry sheets of blue paper were flung over the ropes, becoming a canopy of stars. Father Zuberbueler brought a small table, candles and a monstrance to the makeshift chapel. Bethlehem wouldn’t be complete without Jesus.

Students then processed back into the now dimly lit gym, ducking under the low door that led to the Bethlehem chapel. They heard the Christmas story and sang hymns. After a time of silence before the Blessed Sacrament, Father Zuberbueler led them in Benediction. Principal Nora Buçaj encouraged the students to stay close to Christ during the Christmas break.

“We always talk about how we can build up the body of Christ. Well, we built this Nativity scene together,” she said. “(As we leave school,) we can use this opportunity to talk to Jesus. We can think, what can I do for baby Jesus? How can I welcome Jesus into my heart?”


Caleb Forget prays in the makeshift Bethlehem chapel. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD






© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018