WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Mary and Joseph rejoice in the presence of baby Jesus during the L'Arche Christmas pageant.

December 19, 2011
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

There are no rehearsals for the actors, no flashy pyrotechnics during the performance and no cost for admission. Yet for many people, the L'Arche Association of Edmonton hosts the city's best Christmas pageant.

"Often people will say this is their favourite Advent event," said Sister Pat Desnoyers, community leader for L'Arche Edmonton.

"There is something about the spontaneity and seeing the story through different eyes that bring insights to people about how Jesus touches their lives on a daily basis."

Desnoyers said for the past 26 years, the pageant has been L'Arche Edmonton's way of celebrating Christmas and helping others see the Nativity through the eyes of people with disabilities.

The early years of the pageant were held at Holy Cross Convent. Several other locations have also hosted the event. This year's pageant was held Dec. 12 at St. Thomas D'Aquin Church, with more than 200 people in attendance.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

The angel Gabriel brings glad tidings to the Virgin Mary.

The pageant is based on Luke's Gospel account of Jesus' birth. L'Arche members with disabilities animate the parts and bring their own unprompted actions and creativity to the pageant.

Between the scenes, the audience joined in as the band sang Christmas carols. There was also time for prayers and narrative. Children from the audience came up to greet the baby Jesus.

SPIRITUAL REWARDS

As community life coordinator, Maria Mastrih is in her fifth year overseeing the pageant. She said that most of the time the audience is really touched by the play as well as being entertained.

"A spiritual reward and preparation for Christmas are what it's given me personally, and it gives a lot to our community and to the wider community in general," said Mastrih.

As in any dramatic performance, things can go wrong. Past pageants have been no exception.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

One of the shepherds welcomes the Magi to Bethlehem.

"Sometimes people could act in different ways, and they make everybody laugh. Two years ago, Mary didn't want to stay anymore, so she left the chair, just walked off," said Mastrih. "Most of the time I find that the baby is really quiet and really enjoying being Jesus."

Playing the key roles of Mary and Joseph were LeTu Vuong and Jeff Fidelak. Both beamed with joy holding baby Jesus, who was actually played by twins, Noah and Paul Cork. One infant was substituted for the other partway through the pageant.

UNIQUE DYNAMICS

"We've always been fortunate that someone in the L'Arche community has had a baby that year. This year we were spoiled for choices. We had two sets of twins to choose from," said Chuck Hunt, a member of Assumption Parish.

Hunt has been involved with the musical component of the pageant since 1985. "It's the beginning of Christmas for me," he said. "I'm doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things, but come this pageant it's the start of getting into the feel of Christmas."

The actors' natural, imaginative approach always makes the Christmas story enjoyable. If a fellow liked electronics, he might come out on stage wrapped in lights. There was also an interesting assortment of animals.

"Usually we'll have a sheep or camel or maybe a cow. This year we had a butterfly. She insisted that she wasn't an angel, that she was a butterfly," said Hunt.