By Tony DeGol
Although the welcome mat is out at all parishes in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown this Christmas season, there is a special incentive for local Catholics to visit a parish that is under the ministry of a Franciscan priest.
In celebration of the 800th anniversary of Saint Francis of Assisi creating the first Nativity scene in Greccio, Italy, which included live animals and people recreating the humble, yet magnificent birth of Christ, Catholics who visit a Franciscan parish and pray before the Nativity scene in that church can receive a plenary indulgence. This indulgence was approved by the Apostolic Penitentiary at the direction of Pope Francis.
The indulgence, which is a remission of the temporal punishment for sins, is available until February 2, 2024 — the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Besides visiting the church and praying before the Nativity, one must, as usual, celebrate the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation and pray for the Pope’s intentions. Those who are ill or otherwise physically unable to visit a church during this time may receive an indulgence by offering their sufferings to the Lord and through prayer.
Among the parishes in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown blessed by Franciscan ministry and presence, and therefore appropriate locations to visit to receive the indulgence, are Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Holy Rosary, and Saint Mark in Altoona, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Anne, and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus in Johnstown, Holy Family in Colver, Saint Anne in Davidsville, Saint Gregory in MacDonaldton, Saints Philip and James in Meyersdale, Saint John Vianney in Mundys Corner, Saint John the Baptist in New Baltimore, Saints Peter and Paul in Philipsburg, Holy Family in Portage, Saint Michael in St. Michael, and Saint Anthony of Padua in Windber.
At Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in particular, a stunning presepio, or Italian nativity, awaits parishioners and visitors, as always, this Christmas season.
Immaculate Conception Chapel on the campus of Saint Francis University in Loretto, under the leadership of the Sacred Heart Province of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, would also be a site to visit.
“As the Franciscan family celebrating the centenary of the Christmas at Greccio, we are invited to pause before the mystery of the Incarnation in order to contemplate the depth of God’s love for humanity,” noted Father Christopher Panagoplos, TOR, one of many Franciscan priests serving in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. “Let us raise our awareness of daily life, with all its joys and difficulties, as a privileged place of encounter with the Lord.”
[Photo: The presepio at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Altoona, one of several parishes in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, with a Franciscan presence.]