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DEAR reader, for the majority of Italians Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas Season, even if in the liturgical calendar it actually ends on the Sunday celebrating the Baptism of the Lord (January 9th this year). Of course on Epiphany we celebrate the revelation of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, but we also commemorate the day when the Three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing their gifts.

In Italy every year the occasion is celebrated with living nativity scenes, processions through the city centers, and here at the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, the Magi triumphantly arrive at three o’clock to the joy of the children and the applause of the adults. For children, however, Epiphany is also the day when La Befana arrives.

In the Italian folklore La Befana is a grandmotherly woman who resembles a benign witch who brings good children treats on Epiphany Eve, but if they were naughty they may wake up to a lump of coal. She has been flying around the world on her tattered broomstick to swoop down chimneys and deliver sweets or coal on girls and boys since the 8th century as part of the Epiphany feast.

According to popular tradition, the fates of the Magi and of La Befana were intertwined when the Three Wise Men happened upon her early during their quest to find Jesus. She charitably hosted them for an evening in her humble but cozy cottage and, during dinner, they told her they were following a comet to find the King of Kings. The next morning they invited her to accompany them to Bethlehem, but La Befana was busy cleaning her house and so she declined the invitation. After a while, however, she changed her mind. She quickly filled a sack with gifts for the Baby Jesus and set off alone. Unfortunately, although she followed the same star, she was unable to find the manger. Today, La Befana continues to travel the world on Epiphany Eve searching every house for the Baby Jesus and, not finding Him, she leaves candies and chocolates for the good children and coal for the naughty ones.

I think this story can remind us how important it is always to go in search of Jesus and those values that He taught while on earth. Values that are like the stars that never set and continue to give light to us and to whomever we meet. Values that invite us to lead a coherent, radiant and full life, not in order to accomplish something extraordinary, but rather to be able to be small, bright points of reference to someone who no longer wants to walk a spiritual path or hope in the Lord.

There are many people who need these “little stars” because they feel alone, abandoned, judged, slandered and marginalized. They badly need love from someone who can put a hand on their shoulder and instill courage in their hearts.

Jesus, the bright Star, the manifestation of God to human beings, no longer walks along our roads as He did 2,000 years ago, but we ourselves can walk along with the people around us and communicate Him to them with acceptance, friendship, goodness and forgiveness.

Poor La Befana lost the opportunity to know the Son of God due to futile commitments; we, who have known Him, must ensure that futile commitments don’t prevent us from making Him known to others.

May your New Year be a time of commitment, courage and renewal. Be assured of my prayers and those of all the friars of the Basilica of Saint Anthony for you and your loved ones. Happy New Year!

Updated on January 01 2022