“Peace on Earth?”
That’s the question displayed above a nativity scene in Dedham that features the baby Jesus inside a black metal cage and the three wise men cut off from Mary and Joseph by a fence-like barrier.
The unconventional holiday arrangement outside of St. Susanna Parish was set up over the weekend to mark the start of Advent Sunday.
But its purpose goes beyond that: Church officials and parishioners hope the imagery will provoke conversations about how immigrants are being treated at the US-Mexico border, including the controversial separation of children from their parents.
“We thought we would kind of put a mirror image of what it would look like if this happened 2,000 years ago,” Father Stephen Josoma said of the display. “It’s kind of a mirror image of where we are at today.”
The idea for the divided nativity scene came out of a meeting of the congregation’s Pax Christi committee, a group that gathers monthly and “seeks to educate the community on matters related to peace and justice,” according to the church’s website.
The setup shows baby Jesus enclosed in a cage, with Mary and Joseph looking over him. To the right of them, the three wise men are visible behind a net that extends from the ground to the stable’s ceiling, to “keep out foreigners,” Josoma said.
A sign with an arrow on it is tacked to the net and points toward the wise men. Written on the sign is the word “deportation.”
A second sign, which is mounted above the stable, poses a question for passersby: “Peace on Earth?”
“Is this what peace on earth looks like?” said Josoma, referencing recent events where tear gas was used by US agents to stop crowds of migrants — including children — from crossing the border.
“It’s hard to say we are a people of peace when we are sending soldiers with tear gas to stop people,” he said.
Josoma said in a follow-up message that he doesn’t consider the nativity display to be a protest of President Trump and his administration’s policies but more of “a nudge to people ‘of good will.’ ”
He said that so far, the display has been met with a mixed response — with some missing the point the church is trying to make.
“Some people look at it and can’t figure out why the child is in the container,” he said. “It takes them time to get that.”
This is the second year that parishioners from the congregation have used the nativity scene to spark a thought-provoking conversation about current events.
Last year, the display featured 16 signs posted on the back wall of the structure, each one bearing the name of a place where a mass shooting had occurred and the number of people who were killed.
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.