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Parishes supporting unlimited immigration are weaponizing the traditional Christmas crib to fire political salvos at former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and President Donald Trump: Baby Jesus was black, born to black immigrants Mary and Joseph, on a refugee boat in the Mediterranean; Baby Jesus was Hispanic, separated from his Mexican parents, all incarcerated in separate prison cages by the cruel anti-immigrant policies of Trump's America.
Promoting the revisionist premise of "Jesus as migrant" — a leitmotif of Pope Francis' pontificate — the town of Padula in Salermo, Italy, has designed a nativity crib on a drifting barge crammed with migrants.
The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph are portrayed as African migrants and the infant Jesus is also black.
The crib, exhibited in the church of San Nicola de Domnis in the town center, features neither manger nor cave, and the shepherds — rather than coming to worship the newborn Messiah — are "companions on the journey of hope" for the migrant Holy Family.
Padula is home to the Carthusian monastery Certosa di San Lorenzo and the historical misrepresentation of the nativity has angered local Catholics.
"Our traditions cannot be bent to the interests of human traffickers or asylum NGOs and you absolutely cannot trample the historical truth of the gospels," says Edmondo Cirielli, Quaestor of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
"What message do you want to convey with this crib? That Italy must be invaded by thousands and thousands of mostly Islamic illegal immigrants and make people think falsely that Jesus was also an immigrant? We are mad!" Cirielli hits back.
The crib has been created by the Amici del Presepe association, which has set up a number of cribs in symbolic spots of the historic town, each depicting the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph in different contemporary settings, all inspired by the social problems of today.
In Claremont, California, a United Methodist church has unveiled a nativity scene depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees in cages.
The provocative nativity scene of life-size characters of the Holy Family, each in separate cages, is intended to raise the question — what would happen today if Mary and Joseph tried to bring baby Jesus across the border, seeking asylum in the U.S.?
The church's pastor, Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, says she isn't intending to politicize the Christmas story.
However, on her Facebook page Ristine writes: "What if this family sought refuge in our country today? Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus no older than two taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years."
The Claremont church says it has for years adapted its outdoor nativity scene to reflect current social discourse.
Previously, its cribs have featured a homeless Virgin Mary at a bus stop and a young black man wearing a hoodie to evoke Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager who was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.
The images of the nativity scene Ristine has posted on Facebook have drawn thousands of comments, many of them sharply critical.
"Mary and Joseph were not immigrants nor homeless (they were hotel-less)," responds Taylor Aldridge in comments beneath the post. "They were legal citizens being counted via a Roman census, and required to travel 90 miles to Joseph's ancestral town of Bethlehem. Even when they fled to Egypt, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire to which they belonged."
"This scene is a lie and progressive Christianity is an oxymoron!" he added.
"Mary chose not to have an abortion, too. But you probably won't be posting that fact," comments Joanne Stange.
Commenters also mused whether the Methodist minister might house a refugee in her own manse.
Last year, Church Militant reported on St. Susanna Parish in Dedham, Massachusetts, which had erected a Nativity scene of the baby Jesus inside a cage, and the Magi are separated from the Holy Family by a plastic safety barrier.
According to Fr. Steve Josoma, a parish priest with a notorious dissident, gay-friendly reputation, the plastic barrier was meant as a reference to President Trump's plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to deter illegal immigration.
But critics claim that cash, not Christ, is motivating the Catholic obsession with immigration. In 2016, federal money to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for migrant and refugee services neared $100 million — nearly 39% of the USCCB's annual operating budget. Ever since Trump took office, that budget has been slashed, leading to outcry from U.S. bishops — even though President Barack Obama used almost identical language with regard to illegal immigration and the border wall.
This year, Josoma is reminding his parish that the infant Jesus "might represent a child born into a community where rising waters will overwhelm his home and force him to become one of millions of climate refugees."
In 2016, the Holy Father told a delegation of Scalabrini missionaries at the Vatican that migrants were responsible for the birth and building of Europe.
"Migrants build a country; this is how they built Europe. Europe was not born this way, Europe has been made by many waves of migration over the centuries," Francis said.
Pope Francis has also criticized the idea of border walls — even as Vatican City is flanked by a 40-foot-thick stone wall built to protect it from invaders.