Start a new tradition with the Blessing of the Bambinelli

By Pat Shea

Associate editor

Holiday traditions provide a wonderful opportunity to share the importance of faith and create special memories that can last a lifetime. This year, the Diocese of Syracuse invites all parishes to join in a special holiday tradition favored by Pope Francis — the Blessing of the Bambinelli (Italian for Baby Jesus).

Each year on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday (or Rejoice Sunday), Pope Francis blesses the Bambinelli (Baby Jesus figure) of thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Children and adults bring the Bambinelli from their own nativities to be blessed by the pope. Throughout the years, many Catholic churches worldwide have participated in this unique and beloved tradition that reinforces the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.

The idea to embrace this tradition in the Diocese of Syracuse began with Father Charles Vavonese, director of the Formation for Ministry program.

“Many years ago when I was in my junior year at Loyola College and living in Italy, I heard about the blessing of the Bambinelli and was very moved by this idea,” stated Father Vavonese. “It stayed on my heart for many years. Last year I saw a video of the pope blessing the Bambinelli and I knew this would be a great evangelical tool and family activity for our diocese. When children take the Bambinelli from their own nativity to the church to be blessed, it can provide a forum for the faith-keepers, the parents or grandparents, to talk about the birth of Jesus and the importance of faith formation.”

To launch this program, Father Vavonese began working with Mary Hallman, director of the Office of Evangelization for the diocese, creating a “turnkey model” for parishes to host their own Blessing of the Bambinelli during Advent. A complete packet of materials was created that includes everything a parish needs: information sheets that explain the tradition; parishioner invites; pre-written bulletin announcements and parish signs; and information on how to order a Bambinelli for any child or family wishing to participate in the program.

“The beauty of this program is no one will be left out,” stated Hallman. “It doesn’t matter if a family doesn’t own a nativity; we ordered 5,000 Bambinelli [figures] and parishes can order what they need.”

To help parishes successfully implement the program, Father Vavonese turned to the current candidates in the Formation for Ministry program for help. During a Formation for Ministry workshop on learning how to implement programs at the parish level, candidates were asked to develop a presentation for the blessing program, as well as offer to coordinate the program at their own parish as a type of mini-internship.

To further promote the program, Hallman distributed the support information on the blessing program and a Bambinelli to each woman attending the Catholic Women’s Conference, which was held in November.

“Every woman at the conference received a Bambinelli and they just loved it,” explained Hallman. “The response to the program was so positive. One mom came back and asked us for four more Bambinelli figures. She had five children and wanted to put a Bambinelli in their shoes to celebrate St. Nicholas Day.”

The Blessing of the Bambinelli will be held at participating parishes throughout the Diocese of Syracuse Dec 12 and 13. Parishes interested in launching this new tradition should contact Mary Hallman at (315) 470-1429 or Father Charles Vavonese at (315) 470-1491 for more information.

Click here for a list of participating parishes. Learn more about the Blessing of the Bambinelli in the Dec. 2 edition of “Around the Diocese.”


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