The creche sends a simple message of God’s love

Renee Torina, a New Orleans native now living in Atlanta, spotted the nativity set in a tiny, olive wood shop in Old Jerusalem, a sales space with no doors, where every piece of inventory is on display because it has to move almost as fast as the people walking briskly by on the cobblestone out front.   
There is no back room, but there is haggling, something Torina is very good at in her job with a national automobile wholesaler.
The crèche had caught her eye, and she was confident she was going to get it at the price in her head, even if it meant doing the car-dealership tango where the price drops in a predictably smooth ratio based on the number of times the customer walks out the door saying, “I’ll think about it” or “I’ll be back later.”
There was something about this crèche that spoke to her and kept her in the dance.
“I loved the curves of it,” Torina said. “It had the soft lines and it was very welcoming, like it was carved out of that single piece of olive wood. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Somebody did this, loved this enough to hand-carve it.”
The crèche has become even more important to Torina this year. Six months ago, her mother, Mary Ann, a parishioner at St. Benedict Parish in Covington, passed away. This will be a difficult Christmas for Torina, her first Christmas without her mom, but in an amazing way, the Jerusalem crèche has become the spiritual equivalent of a hug from her mother, who would always set up three nativity sets in the family home every Advent.
“They were very simple – things my mom had had for years,” Torina said. “One was made of burlap, hand-made; one was your traditional crèche with the three wise men and the farm animals; and the other was a carving that I bought for her at Notre Dame (Cathedral in Paris).”
One was placed on top of the fireplace, one under the tree and the other was in her mom’s and dad’s bedroom.
When Torina flew back from the Holy Land in September, she placed the Jerusalem crèche under her seat “to keep it close to me.” Then she got home and took it out of the bag. It has remained displayed on a table in her living room ever since, no matter that Thanksgiving was still two months away.
“I keep looking at it because it reminds me of my trip,” she said. “A nativity set becomes a beacon, I think. When I look at it, it reminds me of family. It reminds me of the simplicity of the season, that it’s not really all about the gifts and the flood of Christmas decorations. It’s simply the story of a man and a woman and this child. It’s about life and about love and community, and all of that comes together when I look at that nativity scene.”
When Torina flew back to New Orleans earlier this week for Thanksgiving, she finally packed up the Jerusalem crèche and took it with her on the plane, carefully placing it under her seat. Her mother, the “beacon” in her family regarding the Catholic faith, was a person of generosity and gift-giving.
Torina said her “Nana” – her mother’s best friend who was so caring during Mary Ann’s final illness – wanted to come with her on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land but could not go this year. So, in a sense, Torina is bringing the Holy Land to her.
“She’s always wanted a crèche from the Holy Land,” Torina said.
This year, Nana will have one.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached

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