Saint Nicholas leads to Bethlehem

The bishop of Myra is among the most venerated Saints in Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Anglican Father James Rosenthal supports this rediscovery

His image has been “stolen” and revisited by Coca-Cola, the world’s most famous soft-drink. At least one Church in 180 Countries is dedicated to him. Thousands of children have written letters addressed to the Saint Nicholas Basilica in Bari (Italy), asking material and immaterial presents. Saint Nikolaos (Nicholas), bishop of Myra, worshipped in Bari, is among the most renowned Saints in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The origins of the story of Santa Claus in fact date back to him. It’s a shame that this memory has been forgotten or washed away by Western consumerist Christmas. “People tell me that Christmas is not a religious holiday! Christmas, Christ. What they say is not true!” said Fr James Rosenthal, Anglican bishop, expert of Nikolaos. Fr Rosenthal’s mission is the rediscovery of Christianity’s deepest traditions, that of Nikolaos. Sainta Claus is Saint Nikolaus. “If we don’t recover the story of Saint Nikolaus we risk loosing the meaning of Christmas”. Rosenthal’s words should be echoed many times. There can be no Christmas without Saint Nicholas: “There is a problem – Rosenthal continued-. Christian faith, the Christian expression of Christmas, is loosing its deepest meaning. The problem lies in the appeal of the Christian message. The faithful are growing distant because the Christian message is too mysterious. The focus isn’t on Infant Jesus, who is a wonderful Person. And there can be no message without the Child. Saint Nicolaus is part and parcel of the Christian message”. At deep level the value of Nativity is indeed present, but there isn’t full awareness of it. “People accept it without realizing it because often they don’t feel welcome inside the Church. But it’s a gift. And we must be present it better. Also Catholics, just like Lutherans and Protestants, should realize that we should not miss the opportunity of re-evangelizing mankind through Saints like Nicolaus. And the Churches should not judge men and women. They should work together to attract the faithful”. But what is the difference between Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas? “It’s simple: the first begins and ends with the Christmas period, thriving in holiday the period … Whereas Saint Nicholas leads us to Bethlehem. Also the business generated around the figure of Santa Claus is not a bad thing. It’s a fact. But it must be handled in the most appropriately equal way”. A bond linking the East and the West. From Myra (today’s Demre, in Southern Turkey, where he served as bishop until the time of death, occurred in 343) to Bari, from the East to the West, Saint Nikolaos is the bond between two peoples. And he is also much more: “In Bari – said Fr Rosenthal – Nikolaos depicts the people, their conscience. But his image in the Western world, generates fear perhaps because he is a dark-skinned Saint, he is different. I am fond of his image, I consider it exceptional, and I think we should distance ourselves from a serious understanding of this image. Instead, Nikolaos is joy, as testified by millions of pilgrims, that especially in May and December gather in crowds in Bari’s basilica. But people don’t understand that devotion towards Nikolaos is the ideal place of birth of Santa Claus. We should feel the need to recreate this bond between two figures that in reality are the same”. The Saint of the children. Nicholas is among the most venerated Saints in Europe, nonetheless little is known about him… “When I travel and I say that I’m going to Bari – the Pastor said – people wonder why I go there. I tell them that it’s for Saint Nicholas and they reply: “Who’s that?” I think it’s crazy! For example, in Latin Countries, although they know the figure of Nicholas, they ignore the link to Santa Claus, that it should be in Communion with us”. But Nicholas is also a protector of children, defenceless, often mistreated creatures. One of the priorities of the bishop of Myra was to help young children, gifts of the heavens, the present and the future of the world. “We have obligations towards them – Rosenthal pointed out -. In the name of Nicholas we should love children. We have the possibility of promoting the image of a saint of children. There is a new dimension that is added on to his success. Nicholas is a gift of God and it would be foolish to fail to enhance him”.

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