John Sparks plays St. Joseph, Sally Wharry plays Mary, Gabriel Mitchell is Jesus and Marilyn Mitchell is Jesus' grandmother.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

John Sparks plays St. Joseph, Sally Wharry plays Mary, Gabriel Mitchell is Jesus and Marilyn Mitchell is Jesus' grandmother.

December 29, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

There were kings and angels and shepherds. Mary arrived on a donkey this year and there were spotlights on the different characters. Jeffery Fidelak was a king and arrived at the manger with a huge cardboard camel and a wide smile.

As always, baby Jesus was a real baby – this time three-month-old Gabriel Mitchell. Mary and Joseph beamed with joy holding the baby, caressing him tenderly.

This Christmas pageant has been going on for more than two decades but is still a favourite event of many during Advent. This year, more than 300 people attended the play at St. Thomas d'Aquin Church and most presented gifts of food for the Edmonton Food Bank.

Jeffery Fidelak, in a wheelchair, is pushed by l'arche assistant Alan Cork, and Pete Thomas brings a gift for baby Jesus.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Jeffery Fidelak, in a wheelchair, is pushed by l'arche assistant Alan Cork, and Pete Thomas brings a gift for baby Jesus.

The pageant is based on Luke's Gospel account of Jesus' birth. All of the main characters are played by developmentally challenged members of the l'Arche community, who animate the parts and bring their own unprompted actions and creativity to the pageant.

"This event is important because it highlights our people with disabilities," said l'Arche executive director and community leader Sister Pat Desnoyers. "Most of the actors and actresses have developmental disabilities and they have a chance here to act, to shine and to show their abilities."

The pageant is held every year because of popular demand. "I have so many people come to me and say, 'This is my favourite Christmas event. This is my favourite event during Advent. I can't wait to come back next year,'" Desnoyers said.

A CHANCE TO SHINE

"The value of doing this every year is that it gives our community a chance to reach out and invite other people into the joy and the celebration of the Christmas season," said Maria Kruszewski, assistant to Desnoyers. "It also gives our core members a chance to shine."

L'Arche core members Bob Sutter and Cecile Piché are aided by Barb Keet of the l'Arche day program.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

L'Arche core members Bob Sutter and Cecile Piché are aided by Barb Keet of the l'Arche day program.

Kruszewski said l'Arche members were visibly happy to take part in the play and be the centre of everybody's attention.

"The verbal ones for sure will talk about it for a while," she said. "Sally (Wharry), I think will be happy that she was Mary and got to hold the baby and John Sparks did a great job as Joseph. He was just enthralled with that baby, so beautiful."

EVERYONE HAS A ROLE

L'Arche has 24 people with developmental disabilities living in six homes in Edmonton and Sherwood Park. Some have been with l'Arche for as long as 42 years. They are assisted by 20 people without disabilities who come from around the world.

Everybody had a role in the play, noted Desnoyers. Those who didn't have acting roles sang with the band, which sang Christmas carols during the pageant.