Up in the hills of Avellino, Naples, Italy stands a well-known sanctuary, Monte Vergine. Every year at Christmas, crèche of the Nativity are put on display for those who are able to make the dangerous trek up the long winding road which is God’s way of testing the stamina of those who make it. Passengers often hold on to rosaries, afraid to look out their windows lest they be torn from their seat and thrown over the numerous precipices thwarting each car all the way up, and the driver, all the way down.
Each year, Isabella accompanied her parents on their annual pilgrimage to this church to view the Nativity scenes, one older than the other, antiques, worth, well, priceless. It was just such an occasion when Fate felt she might intervene.
Giovanni, too, made such pilgrimages, but usually not on Christmas Eve. This year, his father had been hurt in a construction accident and his broken leg was healed enough for him to drive his small car up the treacherous pathway to redemption. He knew, in his heart, that such a visit, under such strenuous conditions (for it had snowed the night before and he had no money to buy chains for his car), would surely get him at least one benediction from the Madonna.
Giovanni and his family entered the church from the side entrance which was where all the crèche were on display. They, too, stretched up into the cupola of this part of the church, long winding roads peppered with shepherds and the three kings and the best of all, at the end of all of their journeys, the baby Jesus. Mary stood guard with Joseph and the Star of Bethlehem guided the rest to the baby’s manger.
Though all the same, all were different. The crèches came from all over Europe to be on display, but the most famous of all were the Neapolitan which the church had been collecting for years. Most were donated by wealthy families anxious to leave a legacy in their name in such a virtuous place, also hoping for those special blessings to fall upon them.
Others were bought from antique dealers, or willed to the church upon the death of an orthodox Catholic.
Still others had come from America, from Italian-American families who had discovered them perhaps amongst their dead grandmother’s attic storage, or a deceased spinster aunt who had come to America from Italy, who had left special instructions for the nativity set to be sent back to Avellino.
But from wherever in the world they had come, not one was worth more than another, especially in the holiness of Monte Vergine. There, each one was a star.