As Christmas approaches, many families in Glenmary mission parishes will hear a knock at the door. Advent is a time for Las Posadas, a custom of Hispanic origin, an acting out of the Gospel infancy narrative. Specifically it’s a ritual reenactment of the Holy Family looking for lodging in Bethlehem. Las Posadas, a novena, is a mainstay of Catholic culture, celebrated across the Americas and farther. Novena means that it takes place nine times, in this case on separate evenings. In the days before Christmas last year we were fortunate to be present for the evening when Las Posadas came to Glenmary’s volunteer program. We were on Joppa Mountain, in the hills of Grainger County, Tenn., where groups from all over the country come to serve.
“We started this when Father Steve came,” says Felix Ramirez, a parishioner at Glenmary’s St. Teresa of Kolkata church down the other side of the mountain, in Maynardville. He’s talking about Father Steve Pawelk, one of three Glenmarians who came to Grainger County to start a church from scratch. After a decade of growth, worshiping literally in a storefront, the church moved into a new building, dedicated by Knoxville’s Bishop Richard Stika, just last year.
Posadas literally means “inn,” which, we all know, is a key part of the story. There was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph, even as Mary was about to give birth. Celebrating this encounter is “us getting prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus,” explains Felix’s daughter, Lorena. That preparation includes praying together, then sharing a meal, a sign of community.
When the evening started, a group was busy preparing dinner, then there was a knock at the door. A second group was on the front porch, a procession led by young ones carrying a Christmas crèche. The two groups sang a dialogue of sorts, from song sheets, one side playing the Holy Family; the other playing the innkeeper.
Then the inside group welcomed them all indoors, following the nativity scene, the belén navideño, to the front of the room. Following that, everyone prayed the rosary together, the Joyful Mysteries that include praying about the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus. A festive meal followed, topped off by a piñata, hung outside the door, for some lucky, blindfolded child to burst for an outpouring of candy.
Felix reflects on his growing faith community that built a new church over the past few years. “We were too many people for the little room we were in,” he recalls. “We’re really excited about the new church.”
That’s part of the Christmas story, finding a new place. The people at St. Teresa of Kolkata Church in Grainger County have found one.