A sign of the season

Carpenter Chris Abbott shares his experiences building the creche.

People seeking solace and inspiration can once again visit the Christ Child and Holy Family in downtown Pittsburgh, where a construction crew is erecting the only authorized replica of the Nativity scene that St. John Paul II commissioned for the Vatican.

The Pittsburgh Creche in U.S. Steel Plaza is an ecumenical effort by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians to preserve the true meaning of Christmas. It stands as a reminder of God’s great love for all his creation.

“We are trying to capture a moment that not only was eternal, but was so significant in that God became man,” said Monsignor Ron Lengwin, who has shepherded the creche project since it was first built in 1999. “People are very excited that the creche is returning again this year.”

Local labor unions volunteered their services from the start, assembling the 30-ton structure to train apprentice carpenters. Retired instructor Ray Walzer, who has helped all 22 years, is retired now but still returns to the project site every November.

“I was raised Catholic and I think the creche is a good thing. A lot of people like it,” Walzer told The Pittsburgh Catholic.

Carpenter Chris Abbott has been involved for the past 13 or 14 years.

“At first it was just a job, but for me now it’s more about the people who come up to us and say, ‘We’re really glad that you do this,’” he said.

Responsibility for the Pittsburgh Creche belongs to the Christian Leaders Fellowship, the local heads of 10 Christian traditions: Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Presbytery, Salvation Army of Western PA, United Church of Christ Penn West Conference and United Methodist Conference of Western PA.

The Pittsburgh Creche will be blessed on Friday, November 20, though not in front of a crowd due to pandemic restrictions.

Monsignor Lengwin said he knows of at least three couples who decided to get married as they stood before the creche.

“For many people it’s a memory of putting the creche underneath their Christmas tree many years ago,” he said. “In the midst of all our troubles, God is still with us.”

Msgr. Ron Lengwin speaks with workers at the Pittsburgh Creche.
Carpenters lift a wall of the creche into place, as seen from behind Steel Plaza.