Street cleaners’ Nativity scene in Rome draws thousands

Giuseppe Ianni in front of his work


By Lissy Maruthanakuzhy

Rome, Dec. 28, 2018: Forty six years ago when Giuseppe Ianni began working on a nativity scene in Rome people asked, “What are you doing?”

He answered them, “I am setting up the most beautiful Nativity scene in Rome and the Pope will visit it.”

The Popes did come to the “Nativity of the Netturbini” (street cleaners), one of the most visited cribs in Rome.

Not just the Popes.

Over the years, more than 2 million people from Rome, and tourists from around the world, have paid homage to this work of the street cleaners. They came in prayer to testify to the message of peace and brotherhood of Nativity scene.

Ianni, an employee of a company in Rome, conceived and set up the scene in 1972 at his office headquarters, near the Vatican.

“I am doing God’s will, just that,” said Giuseppe, now retired, when asked what inspired him to undertake the venture.

He recalls that people looked at him skeptically in the beginning. “But when my colleagues realized the importance of my project they helped me during their spare time, even late in the evening. That is how we were able to reproduce faithful miniature version of the Nativity in Bethlehem in three months,” he added with a smile, walking along with the visitors.

According to Ianni, Pope Paul VI visited the Nativity scene in 1974. Pope John Paul II kept up his traditional appointment with Ianni and his colleagues every year from the beginning of his Pontificate in 1978.

The crib
The Pope also sealed the profound bond between them with the decision, “to confirm and approve that the Blessed Virgin venerated with the title Madonna of the Street should be proclaimed Patron Saint of the street cleaners in Rome.”

Pope Benedict XVI visited the scene in the first year of his pontificate. “Going to the AMA Nativity scene to pray is like going on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, to the holy grotto where our savior was born,” the Pope remarked.

Seeing some Indians among the visitors during 2018 Christmas season, Ianni pointed to the picture of Mother Teresa adorned on a wall and said, “She visited the scene in 1996.”

He also claimed the scene has become famous around the world as a small masterpiece. It is a permanent exhibition but it is mainly a prayer site, Ianni he added.

“We have used about 3,000 stones from different countries of the world in the making of this scene. The stones are embedded on the outer walls and on the base of the crib,” he said pointing to the crib.

The name of the country is marked below every stone. He requested an Indian visitor to bring one stone from his country.

The scene is enhanced every year with new details by its creator and his volunteers outside the working hours. They have reproduced the style of the buildings of Palestine 2000 years ago. The work intends to represent, together with the Nativity, an idea of peace and brotherhood among all peoples of the earth, Ianni explained.

For Francine Voahangimalala from Madagascar, the place reminded her of the ancient history of 2000 years ago. “The creativity helps us not forget that Jesus was born in Palestine. This nativity scene makes us wake up to the true story of Christ,” she said.

Gissela Galarza Mendoza, a visitor from Bolivia, said the scene “made me reflect how the Holy Family becomes one with all peoples and all human faces, of every place, city, and country.”

Seheno Razanatsehno from Madagascar said she felt touched by the harmony between faith and the culture presented by the different countries with the symbol of stone work. “Ianni has expressed himself in a simple but beautiful way,” she observed.

What impressed Theresia Swai from Tanzania were the stones from different countries that decorate the place in a symbolic way. ““The Nativity Scene of the Netturbini is beautiful as it invites everyone to pray for peace in the world,” she added.

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