During the Christmas holidays in the nineteen thirties and inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Don Orione produced spectacular Nativity plays, religious performances featuring the mysteries of Christmas. They were expressions of faith and art which attracted thousands of people.
Don Orione commented to his seminarians: “We were the first to do this: at first it was regarded as merely amusing, but good has come of it. They are “a truly splendid manifestation of faith and art, unique in Italy”.
He organized dozens of nativity plays, in Tortona, Voghera and Novi Ligure.
There is a photograph, found in our General Archives, which records an event connected with those religious performances: “With the donations received we will offer a lunch for 200 poor people”, said Don Orione. “The lunch will be served by the angels and the shepherds in the nativity play at the Dante school.”
The picture shows the lunch which Don Orione spoke about in the dining room of the Dante school. The people standing and wearing a folded blanket on their shoulders are the seminarian-shepherds, who acted as waiters, serving 280 poor people. “Although everything was done with perfect order and discipline” Don Orione wrote, “Not a single glass was broken amidst all the happiness and peaceful enjoyment. Everyone was delighted, and they left the Dante school with hearty thanks, cheering the generous benefactors and blessing Divine Providence."
That was the genius of Don Orione, “his ability always to combine the cultural with the charitable in his works.”
Fr. Flavio Peloso