Bernardo M. Villegas
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Beautiful Belen

           This year for the first time, office and residential buildings in the Ortigas Center in Pasig City, is starting the tradition of a district-wide Christmas Crib Contest (Belenistas de Ortigas).  As described in the announcement issued to building owners or administrators in the Ortigas Center, "Belenistas de Ortigas" is a collaborative effort initiated by the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), in partnership with the Ortigas Center Association, Inc. and Barangay San Antonio, Pasig City in order to create a "Belen Town" within the Ortigas Center.  Beside making the whole area a tourist attraction, the project also aims to promote Christian values among the members of the community.  The theme for this years' contest is "To seek a King was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went."

          "Belenista" is a Spanish word for a person who makes nativity scenes or creates scenes of Christ's birth.  The "belen" is one of the most famous and ubiquitous symbols of Christmas in the Philippines.  It is usually seen in churches, schools, homes and buildings.  Some of the more famous belens which have attracted huge crowds in the past were those found at the C.O.D. shopping complex in Quezon City and the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan.  Among the provinces, Tarlac is known as the "Belen Capital of the Philippines."  The "Belenismo sa Tarlac" started in 2007 and since then has involved whole communities in the Belen-making competition.

          The tradition of displaying the Christmas crib in both private homes and public places goes much beyond a religious practice.  It is already part of Filipino culture, as the Christmas lantern (which is being exported to other countries); the Christmas tree (which we imported from Europe and the U.S.); and the "Simbang Gabi".   Among the Christmas traditions, however, the Belen stands out for its sublime religious significance.  That is why it should always be part of Christmas decorations.  The center of the Crib is obviously the Christ Child Jesus, true God and true man.  In whatever place the Crib is, people who admire its beauty or simplicity can actually make an internal act of adoration because the Child in the crib represents God made man.

          Christmas day is the culmination of what had occurred nine months before in the village of Nazareth:  the Incarnation of the Son of God in the virginal womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As stated in 464 of the Catechism:  "The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human.  He became truly man while remaining truly God.  Jesus Christ is true God and true man.  During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies against it."

       The first heresies questioned the true human nature of Christ.  From the very beginning of Christianity, the Church has insisted on the true Incarnation of God's Son "who became flesh and dwelt among us."  The first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 confessed in its Creed that the Son of God is "begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father."  The Council condemned Arius, who had affirmed that the Son of God "came to be from things that were not: and that he was "from another substance than that of the Father."  Then came Nestorius who regarded Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God's Son.  The third ecumenical council of Ephesus condemned the Nestorian heresy and declared that "the Word, united to himself in his person the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man."  The Council of Ephesus also proclaimed in 431 A.D. that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb. The Church thus confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man.  He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother.

          During this Christmas Season, as we witness many of the Belens scattered all over the country, let us repeat those word of the Nicene Creed, "For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven:  by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man."  Let us venerate the Child Jesus in the Crib for as the Council of Nicaea II declared the "believer who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted."  Among the many places where we can venerate the icon of the Child Jesus will be the Ortigas Center where many of the buildings will be competing with one another to have the most beautiful belens.  Merry Christmas to all.  For comments, my email address is