by Chiara Dommarco
Moscow (Agenzia Fides) - On November 29, 1223, exactly 800 years ago, Pope Honorius approved, with the Bull "Solet annuere", the final Rule of the Friars Minor, drawn up by Saint Francis, later called "Regola bullata". A few days later, in the village of Greccio, on the way back from Rome to Assisi, Francesco created the first representation of the Nativity. The story of the first Nativity scene is closely linked to the birth of the Franciscan Order itself. In 2023, the 800th anniversary of the “Greccio Christmas Nativity Scene” and the papal approval of the “Regula Bollata” are celebrated all over the world.
This is also the case in Russia. "We too have thought of various initiatives to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Christmas Nativity Scene in Russia of Greccio and the Rule of the Order," said Father Dariusz Harasimowicz (OFM Conv.), Custodian of the Russian General Custody of Saint Francis of Assisi (Rossiyskaya General'naja Kustodija sv. Franciska Assizskogo) to Fides. Given the circumstances, says the letter issued on October 4th by the Conference of the Franciscan Religious Family gathered in Assisi, Pope Francis grants to all the faithful from December 8th, 2023 (Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception) to February 2nd, 2024 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple) in front of the nativity scene set up in one of the churches looked after by the Franciscans around the world, a plenary indulgence. Even those who are unable to go to one of these churches can receive the gift of the plenary indulgence by "offering their sufferings to the Lord or performing pious acts," as the letter says. “Not only by visiting one of the Franciscan churches present in the Russian Federation and in Kazakhstan will one be able to receive the spiritual 'gift' of Pope Francis – continues Brother Dariusz − but also other 'gifts' designed by the Franciscans of this Custody to live well not only the anniversaries of 2023, but also the equally important one that awaits us in 2024: the 800 years since the day on which Saint Francis received the stigmata". Starting from the month of December it will be possible to purchase from the Franciscan Brothers a special 2024 annual calendar published by their Moscow publishing house: inside it will be remembered the saints and blessed who, during their lifetime, joined the various ecclesial realities that came from the charism bestowed by St. Francis, and a quotation from the order's rule is given for each month of the year. In addition, from December 8th, the faithful of all Catholic dioceses in the Russian Federation can take part in a nativity scene competition organized by the Franciscans. "It is not an initiative for 'professional artists': the most important thing," emphasizes Brother Dariusz, "is that the figures and huts are not bought in a shop, but that you can buy them together as a family or if you don't have a family, also alone or with friends". A commission of Franciscan friars put together specifically for the competition will evaluate the nativity scenes and award the prizes. The first three winners will also receive the Russian translation of the book "Franciscan Sources" as a prize, while the creators of the first classified nativity scene will also win all five volumes of the "Catholic Encyclopedia", published between 2002 and 2013 by the Franciscan Publishing House in Moscow. There is also a special initiative at the parish level, this time just for children: At the beginning of Advent, the Franciscans will send scripts for Christmas plays to all Catholic dioceses in Russia, which will be distributed among catechists and educators. "We propose texts, but each parish is free follow the scripts it wants: the most important thing is that the children have a good experience to prepare for Christmas together," concludes Brother Dariusz. Today there are a total of sixteen Franciscan conventuals who have taken final vows in Russia and Kazakhstan, coming from Lithuania, Slovenia, Poland, Belarus and Italy. In the Custody there are six Franciscan churches where indulgences can be obtained according to the specified modalities: five in Russia (in Moscow, Kaluga, St. Petersburg, Chernyakhovsk and Astrakhan) and one in Kazakhstan (in Astana). The Order's recent history in Russia and Kazakhstan began after the collapse of the USSR, when in 1993 the Friars Minor were invited to these countries by Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, then Apostolic Administrator of European Russia. At the beginning of their mission, the religious belonged to several Polish religious provinces, and in 2001 the Russian General Custody of Saint Francis of Assisi was founded, which also includes Kazakhstan. (Agenzia Fides, 29/11/2023)