For many people, ‘tis not just the season for joy, it’s also the season for stress. Beneath the jolly tunes and holiday cheer lie lists of to-dos, hectic schedules, and anticipation about the new year. With frazzled nerves all too common this winter holiday, it can feel difficult, if not impossible, to take a moment to remember the happiness that abounds this season.
Mariapolis Luminosa in Hyde Park is here to provide a retreat of tranquility amid the holiday chaos. The little “city” is one of the 32 of its kind that exist across the globe. Together, they support the Focolare movement, which was founded in Italy in 1944 by Chiara Lubich, an elementary school teacher in Trento, in northern Italy. Inspired by a passage from the Bible (“That they may all be one,” John 17:21), Lubich and friends began to spread a message of unity and universal bortherhood throughout Italy and into Europe. The word Focolare means “hearth” or “family fireside” in Italian. Currently, according to its website, the Focolare initiative is active in 182 countries with around two million supporters. In honor of its roots, the Focolare headquarters remain in Rome, Italy.
A Mini City Dedicated to Peace
The Hyde Park city, which came into existence in 1986, acts as North America’s Focolare hub. Its name, Mariapolis Luminosa, honors Margarita Bavosi, a notable member of the Focolare movement. The substantial site boasts lodging, meeting centers, a dining hall, a creative studio, and even a gift shop for visitors to explore. During the year, the haven hosts spiritual meetups, family reunions, group visits, educational conferences, and more. On top of that, it also houses New City Press, the Focolare publishing house, and Living City, the group’s magazine.
While the space is an ideal venue for individual reflection and large scale events, the greater goal for any and all visits is to promote greater unity throughout the world. In 1988, the Hyde Park mini city created the Luminosa Award for Unity to recognize individuals or groups who advocate for unity. In the past, educators, government officials, and Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, and Muslim leaders have received the honor.
Nativity Scenes from Around the Globe
As far as visiting the Hudson Valley spiritual center goes, trips there are just as memorable in the spring as they are in the fall. In winter, however, the city holds a special appeal. Each Christmas season, Mariapolis Luminosa goes above and beyond to spread the message of unity with its annual nativity display. The one-of-a-kind exhibit brings together around 200 nativity scenes from more than 50 countries across the globe.
“Our hope is that this display can help everyone visiting recall and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, that they feel the joy and comfort in their soul that is lacking so much in the stress and worry of everyday life,” says Marliese Becker, the site’s co-director. Visitors from near and far can stop by Mariapolis Luminosa free of charge to take in the countless creches on display and enjoy the harmony at work between the various cultures. “All the cultures represented express the same reality,” Becker continues. “It is a reconfirmation of the everlasting love God has for all of humanity.”
Since the display began in 1987 with only 50 scenes, it has become a lasting success both in the community and throughout North America. The ever-multiplying population of creches is thanks mainly to friends and visitors from across the globe who donate new ones to the medley.
Although it is free to visit the city throughout the year, there is a suggested $5 donation for the nativity scene exhibit during the holidays. For large groups, the site recommends calling ahead to secure special arrangements.
The Reason for the Season
For anyone concerned about missing the exhibit, never fear. Mariapolis Luminosa offers a few select dates in January to continue the the festivities into the new year. From Friday, January 5 to Sunday, January 7, the general public can make the trip to Hyde Park to see the international art on display. Hours are 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on all three days.
Later in January, the mini city will participate in the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” in conjunction with the Hyde Park Association of Churches. For further updates on events and programming throughout the year, stay tuned to the site’s Facebook page or website.
With 2018 ready for takeoff, take the last few precious moments of the holiday season to enjoy the inherent peace that rests at the heart of Mariapolis Luminosa. A visit to Hyde Park’s best kept secret may not cure all winter blues or bring about world peace – yet. But it will be a fun, festive, and peaceful respite from an otherwise hectic schedule, and it will remind everyone of the reason for the season. Bring the kids for an educational outing, or go it alone for a mini retreat during the day. After all, when it comes to peace and unity, little moments can inspire little gestures that add up like puzzle pieces that fit together for a picture of peace.
VISIT Mariapolis Luminosa at 200 Cardinal Rd, Hyde Park.
LEARN MORE by calling (845) 229-0230, Ext. 127; or visit Focolare.org/MariapolisLuminosa.
SEE the nativity scene display January 5 – 7, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.; $5 suggested donation.