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A Beautiful Advent Tradition: Bambinelli Sunday, Blessing the Christ Child

BY Sarah Reinhard

| Posted 12/4/13 at 10:16 AM

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Before I became Catholic, I really had no desire to travel the world. Why would I, when there is so much to see here in the United States?

Now that I’m Catholic, though, I have a growing list of international dream destinations and near the top of the list is Rome. And, thanks to Amy Welborn’s new book, Bambinelli Sunday (Franciscan Media, 2013), I have an exact time when I’d like to go: the third Sunday of Advent, with my Baby Jesus in hand.

Though I’m not a child, I’ll come with kids in tow, I promise. And we’ll all have little Christ Child figures with us.

According to what Google translated for me from the Italian site that has all the details, this tradition has been going on for over 30 years. It helps “children and young people to prepare for Jesus.” You bring the Christ Child from your Nativity or precepe scene (the Italians really get into this, it seems) and the Pope blesses it during the noon Angelus that day.

As with so many great Catholic traditions, it seems simple on the surface. But as we’ve seen, add children and Papa and you get more than just a good photo op. You also get, as it happens, the chance for a good story.

That’s what Welborn and illustrator Ann Engelhart have given us in Bambinelli Sunday. It’s more than just a hardcover picture book: it’s an examination of what we’re really waiting for as we spend our Advent struggling and wrangling. It’s a look inside, at the place we’re really clearing for Baby Jesus in our hearts.

Though Welborn hasn’t been to Bambinelli Sunday herself, she has been to Rome a number of times. She says, “I’ve experienced that amazing festive atmosphere, and the deep awareness of communion that comes when Catholics from all over gather, especially with the Holy Father.  I would love to be there for Bambinelli Sunday, but it hasn't happened yet!”

According to Welborn, part of the inspiration for the book came from a video illustrator Ann Engelhart had seen about Bambinelli Sunday and the blessing Pope Benedict XVI gave in 2008.

On her blog, Welborn has compiled a listing (updated as she finds them) of parishes who are celebrating Bambinelli Sunday locally. I asked her for her ideas and tips, because of course I’d love to see it in my own parish (and have already started the conversation with my pastor).

I think it is a marvelous way for a parish to bring family and parish together.   It looks to me as if most parishes are simply inviting children to bring in the Bambinelli on the Third Sunday of Advent for a blessing, either during or after Mass -after Mass might be more appropriate.  Pope Benedict's blessing from 2008 might be a great source for the text of a blessing.  Another thing that parish staff might consider is combining it with a craft - having children at some point before Bambinelli Sunday - perhaps on a Saturday or during religious education - make their own Bambinelli out of clay. 

Making my own Bambinelli is waaaay outside my non-crafty league, but I have friends who excel at this sort of thing.

For all the talking about it, though, I think it’s best summed up in the words of Pope Benedict, from 2009:

The blessing of the “Bambinelli” [Baby Jesus figurines] as they are called in Rome, reminds us that the crib is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having many things but in feeling loved by the Lord, in giving oneself as a gift for others and in loving one another. Let us look at the crib. Our Lady and St Joseph do not seem to be a very fortunate family; their first child was born in the midst of great hardship; yet they are full of deep joy, because they love each other, they help each other and, especially, they are certain that God, who made himself present in the little Jesus, is at work in their story. And the shepherds? What did they have to rejoice about? That Newborn Infant was not to change their condition of poverty and marginalization. But faith helped them recognize the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” as a “sign” of the fulfilment of God’s promises for all human beings, “with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2: 12, 14).