Away in a manger at a church in Queens

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Christmas tree. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Christmas tree. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Just a month ago the story of a newborn being left in the Nativity scene at a Catholic church in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, made headlines on the diocese’s NET TV and across the country, if not the world.

In the news business something that happened a month ago might seem like old news, but on Christmas Eve, a day full of joyous anticipation, it is a timely story that bears retelling.

And the best way to recount that story of the babe found in the manger at Holy Child Jesus Church in the Richmond Hill area of Queens is through the eyes of Father Chris Heanue, parochial vicar at the church where the story unfolded. Ed Wilkinson, editor of The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper, sent along this piece written by Father Heanue:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

In most parishes, Mondays are pretty routine. Usually, priests and staff spend their Mondays responding to e-mails and calls from the past weekend, preparing office mailings, cleaning the church after the weekend Masses and performing other ordinary tasks. A recent Monday (Nov. 24), however, was unlike all the rest at my parish, Holy Child Jesus in Richmond Hill.

That morning, our maintenance man, Jose Moran, began putting up our indoor Nativity scene in preparation for Christmas. Although its assembly was a bit premature for my liking, it turned out to be timed perfectly in God’s providence.

Shortly after returning from lunch, Jose began sweeping and cleaning the church. While he was performing his duties, he began to hear the cries of a child. The sobs led him to our newly assembled creche. To his great surprise, there was a newborn child placed in the stable, wrapped in, for lack of better words, swaddling clothes!

He immediately ran to the office and informed the parish secretary, who called the priests. We immediately called 911. Thankfully, the baby boy was in perfect health, though the paramedics brought him to the hospital for care.

Photo of the baby shortly after he was found. (Courtesy/Ed Wilkinson, The Tablet)

Photo of the baby shortly after he was found at Holy Child Jesus Church. (Courtesy/Ed Wilkinson, The Tablet)

By Tuesday, the story was “viral.” We received phone calls from many media outlets. Television vans, cameras and reporters swarmed the parish. Headlines blared: “Newborn Baby Found in Manger,” “Manger Baby,” and “Baby Found Lying in a Manger.” Recalling the timeline of events to every reporter was taxing, though I and the other priests of the parish saw it as an opportunity for evangelization.

This evangelization centered on three themes:

Life: May God bless this mother, who in her time of distress and fear chose life. Too often in the news we hear about similar situations that do not end as well and as happily as this one. As scared as this poor mother was, she gave her child a chance at life. She left him in a place she knew to be safe, the house of God. Someone left in the hands of God and his church is never truly abandoned.

Church as Home: We are starting a Jubilee Year of Mercy. What better way to be merciful than to provide shelter to someone in need? This young mother found in our parish church a safe place for her child. At Holy Child Jesus, the church doors remain open for at least 13 hours each day. One wonders if this mother found the doors of the church locked, where would she have turned?

Priesthood: This incident led me to reflect on my own priesthood. Even though I have only been ordained a priest for five months, I have had so many amazing and exciting experiences. The priesthood is most certainly not boring. God continues to surprise us and to show us His plan each and every day.

At the center of the priest’s day is his celebration of the Mass, from which so many graces flow. The holy Eucharist gives the priest strength to mourn with those who have lost a loved one, to rejoice with a couple as they enter into holy matrimony or with a family as they witness the baptism of a little one, to counsel parishioners in the confessional and outside of it, and to serve the People of God in countless other ways.

On that unique Monday in late November, God invited me to rejoice in the gift of life, to give thanks for my vocation to preach His Gospel and to welcome all those who seek a home in the church.

(Brooklyn Auxiliary) Bishop Octavio Cisneros, the pastor here, and I had the chance to visit the baby boy in Jamaica Hospital. We prayed that he may grow up to be a strong and faithful follower of Jesus and that God may protect him on his life’s journey.

At this moment, the child has been placed in the care of a foster family. He will remain there until the mother of the child fully relinquishes her rights as mother. Recently, the mother spoke anonymously to a city newspaper and explained that she did not feel ready to be a mother because she does not have the ability to provide for her child. Although she did also state that she might keep the child.

There are numerous loving parishioners of Holy Child Jesus that wish to adopt him. So many of us feel that he was a gift to our community and that he should remain in our parish. Yet, we know that this is truly in the hands of God. As the boy’s mother placed her trust in the Lord, so must we.

Let us pray for all mothers who find themselves in times of despair and fear that they may always choose life. As we prepare a home in our hearts for the Christ child this Christmas, we pray that all may find in our churches a home, a place in which they are welcomed and supported and in which they receive the message of the Gospel.

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