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A Christmas Blessing and Story…

A Christmas Blessing and Story…

If you know John, you can’t help but love him. He has been a true blessing to our community for decades. I thank him for sharing his Christmas card and message for this glorious season with us.

It began with the simple cry of a baby … And grew into a shout of good news that echoed Through the Ages … Christ is born!

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 12:6

Wishing you all the best things of Christmas, Father John Manno.

“Dear friends and family, traditional nativity scenes inspire us. This year’s card is contemporary since it uniquely communicates ‘realness!’ You see the basin and towel used by a father prior to presenting his adopted son into the first embrace of his mother’s arms. Without a doubt, the moment brought a challenge. The baby’s first cry was destined for evolution into the greatest ‘voice’ the world would ever hear.”

Father Manno has worked for the good of God and spreading the message of Christ Our Savior for a lifetime. He has been a celebrant of Christmas Mass for over 50 years. Here at home, he has spent a combined 30 years between Annunciation in Williamsport and Our Lady of Lourdes in Montoursville. But during his journey, he also spent 16 years at St. John Bosco in Conyngham, Pennsylvania, two years at St. Peters Cathedral in Scranton, two years at St. John the Evangelist in Pittston and his early years at the Seaman’s House YMCA in New York City. Father Manno estimated that he has been the celebrant of Christmas Mass over 200 times at the different parishes, which includes up to five during a single Christmas season.

As I talked with Father Manno about Christmas, the twinkle in his eye just burned brighter and brighter. He seemed to get younger right before my eyes as he shared his thoughts about the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ and Christmastime.

His message to all, “Experience Christmas, the contemplation of God to come amongst us. It is a most joyous time, to celebrate the importance of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and how God sent his only son to the mortal world to provide us everlasting life. All beginning with the innocence and vulnerability of having a baby born in a manger.”

Father Manno wants everybody to live Christmas. “To understand and experience the love of God and his only Son. How Mary and Joseph, who were two migrants, accepted our Lord and cared for him unconditionally. Joseph being his stepfather loved him like his own. I think this is a message for all families — no matter of their makeup. When God comes into our life, we realize the importance of each other, and how we are all truly one.”

Father Manno has always been a champion for equality and diversity and wanted me to remind everyone that the coming of Jesus is for everyone. “The wise men were Kings from three different cultures, Jesus was truly sent to unite the world in the name of God.”

At this point, I asked Father Manno a few questions about his Christmas experiences over the years. His favorite Christmas was in New York City in 1974. He served people from all nationalities aboard Maritime ships on the Brooklyn Waterfront in New York Harbor. It was his privilege to board these ships no matter of origin. There were Dutch, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, South African — you name it. He would go on the ships and minister in The name of the Lord. “It was beautiful at Christmastime; the ships were decorated in the traditions of the sailors’ Homeland.” His all-time favorite Christmas tree ornament is a gift from the Captain of a Japanese Maru or cargo ship. Although there was a language barrier, they both understood the joy of the season. “We are all alike; I learned this during my time in New York City. I met sailors from all walks of life that understood the realness of Jesus Christ.”

One of the most moving Christmases for Father Manno took place at St. John Bosco. It was his first Midnight Mass celebration. As it ended, he looked out the doors of the church, the world was peaceful as snow began to fall on the full-size Nativity scene the parishioners of the church had recently set up. “It was surreal and moving, perfect timing.”

Father Manno has always embraced Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas is the beloved Patron Saint of Children. He completely understood how Santa and St. Nicklaus represent a magic time of a child’s Christmas. So what did Father Manno do? He implemented Santa into his Christmas Mass.

Father Manno would have Santa Claus enter through the back of the church during evening and midnight mass, walk right down the aisle to the crèche, take off his hat and kneel down in respect of the Christ child. Santa would adore and show his amazement for Earth’s newborn King. Then rise slowly, back into the darkness and exit to the side of the church.

This became a Father Manno tradition known as Midnight Santa that he loves doing each and every year. Father mentioned to me, at Annunciation while doing a Christmas service in the 80s a loud banging was heard from the rooftop of the church just as Santa arrived at the altar. This was not scripted, and to this day Father Manno is still scratching his head in wonder.

Father Manno’s favorite Christmas cookie is the janette. His favorite Christmas song is “What Child is This.” He always looks forward to a traditional Christmas Eve dinner of aioli and baccala. Aioli is a pasta dish with garlic, olive oil, anchovies, and capers. Baccala is a soup with fish, kale, grapes and more.

Father wants everyone to know his “health is good but his legs, not so much.” And you can find him on Facebook. Most importantly “Celebrate the realness of God’s gift of Emmanuel every day, not just on Christmas.”

Father John is officially a Pastor Emeritus within the Catholic Church. Which basically means retired with honor. He will still be the celebrant of a couple of Christmas Masses this season. I only wish I knew his schedule so I could share it with you.

Merry Christmas! And as always God Bless America.

Jim Webb

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