A nativity scene in front of a Dedham church bears a different holiday message from the traditional sentiment for “Peace on Earth” — and it is stirring national conversation about gun control.
Last weekend, parishioners at St. Susanna posted 16 signs on the back wall of the “stable” in the nativity scene listing some of the country’s most horrific mass shootings and the number of victims killed in each incident. The litany includes Columbine High School, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the Las Vegas concert shooting; and San Bernardino.
The Rev. Stephen Josoma said the idea to place the names on the wall behind the statues of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in front of the church came several weeks ago during a meeting of the congregation’s Pax Christi group, part of an international peace movement.
Every year the group tries to do something different, he said, to raise awareness around specific issues, especially nonviolence. The meeting led to a discussion about the country’s mass shootings, and soon after came the creation of the signs.
Josoma said the congregation hopes the display provokes thought and conversation about the work that still needs to be done to bring about change in the country so such shootings no longer occur.
“It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” he said. “There’s a shooting, and we’re told, ‘We can’t talk about it now,’ and then the next shooting happens. . . . Our honest intention was to keep the conversation going.”
He added, “It’s our new normal unfortunately, and [the display is] to jar people out of that place of accepting it as the new normal.”
Since the display went up last weekend and made national headlines, Josoma said the church has been receiving calls — positive and negative — from all across the country. No one has asked the church to take down the signs, he said.
“We have had people who are supportive and people who are angry,” he said. “But everybody needs to be listened to. Everybody has a story to tell, and everybody has a perspective.”
Josoma understands that the signs seem to politicize the holiday season and what is supposed to be a time of good cheer. But he said they also speak to Jesus’ message of peace.
“We are just hoping that people can see we are here to celebrate the Prince of Peace, and peace on earth,” he said. “But how can we realize this gift that we celebrate every year if it hasn’t seemed to have taken root?”
As a society, people shouldn’t allow this type of violence, he said, but they do.
“So the question is, what is the answer? And do we have the will and courage and the wisdom to go down that path?” he said. “Or is it going to be business as usual, and we are going to add a few more plaques next year for the next group of victims and perpetrators involved?”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.