Lewiston might be not quite be the North Pole, but the elves of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine are working hard to make Christmas special for everyone. The Barnabite Fathers who direct the shrine are preparing their 24th annual Festival of Lights.
As is the tradition, the shrine and basilica will host a variety of special events from Nov. 22 to Jan. 6, 2015. Concerts, meals, auctions and prayer will fill the schedule while the light displays will fill the lawn.
Every year Father Julio M. Ciavaglia, CRSP, rector of the shrine, designs a new feature for the lights display. This year he is following Pope Francis' lead by honoring the family, the Holy Family to be specific.
"We have a statue of the Holy Family that's going to be embellished with Christmas lights," he said. "We're having a prayer there, so when people come to visit the entire Festival of Lights, the Holy Family will be standing out. The Holy Father has emphasized the family life for this year. That's where we get our inspiration from, the Holy Father."
Their goal in creating this display is to attract people who may not be regular churchgoers. It's evangelization in a way, drawing people to church through a message they can understand, then informing or reminding them of the true meaning of the season.
"Anyone will come out for lights," said Father Peter Calabrese, CSRP, associate director of the shrine.
Fatima's Festival of Lights actually began out of Father Ciavaglia's Charlie Brown-like frustration over the ever-growing commercialization of Christmas.
"I was angry because it became so superficial and so commercial," he said. "Where's Jesus in all of this? So I decided to do this special Festival of Lights to emphasize the religious aspect of it. There were a lot of challenges with what the businesses were doing in a secular way. The real message of Christmas was being ignored. So the best way to attract people to the message is the make the letters big. What I mean by that, it's make a big scene of it, which we do on the ground of Our Lady of Fatima. I've heard many times, which is very rewarding to me, people say that until they come to the shrine they feel they couldn't get into the Christmas mood. Hearing that in different ways from different people through the years is a consolation to me."
Almost all the items in the festival are made at Fatima and designed by Father Ciavaglia, the shrine's resident artist. The doves and a menorah were gifts from Niagara Falls, N.Y., after it ceased its own Festival of Lights in 2000.
"In reality, most of the stuff is built here. Father (Ciavaglia) and our maintenance crew put everything together," said Father Calabrese.
Things kicked off immediately following 4 p.m. Mass on Nov. 22. The lights were lit and Father Calabrese blessed the new Holy Family feature. The annual Knights of Columbus spaghetti dinner followed.
The last event of the year will be a concert by the Voices of Mercy on Dec. 29 at 7 p.m.