CHICAGO (CBS) — The Daley Center nativity scene is back for a 29th year.
A church choir sang, a children’s bell choir played Christmas carols and two Catholic priests blessed the nativity scene during the noontime ceremony Saturday.
Although the nativity scene generated little controversy Saturday, speakers reminded those on hand for the blessing that it wasn’t always that way.
The Rev. Gerald O’Reilly, pastor of Santa Maria del Popolo Church in Mundelein, said many merchants and others want no part of Christ in Christmas, even though there would be no Christmas without him.
“All these businesses — 40 percent of their money comes in for Christmas,” he said. “Don’t mention Jesus. Don’t mention Christmas. But give me your money!”
Jim Finnegan has co-owned the creche with retired Chicago Police officer Terry Hodges said they purchased it from the late William Grutzmacher in 1995. Finnegan said he became involved because he was disgusted that so many merchants wouldn’t even say “Merry Christmas” any more, insisting instead of the generic “Harry holidays.”
He said he has no problem sharing the Daley Center spotlight with a 57-foot Christmas tree, a giant menorah and an atheist “A” symbol.
Frankly, I’m pleased that there’s a menorah here, too,” Finnegan said. “That’s fine. We have a great danger when they start telling us that we can’t exercise our freedom of speech.”
Activist Joseph Scheidler recalls getting to Daley Plaza the night before Grutzmacher went to court after receiving a phone call from a friend, only to find that half of the nativity scene that had been placed there had been hauled away by city garbage trucks. He said he held onto the likeness of an angel, and that children took turns protecting the likeness of the infant Jesus, until U.S. District Judge James Parsons ruled that the creche was protected speech.
Both sides had cited the First Amendment in their arguments before Parsons.
The nativity scene’s life-sized figures are maintained “at great cost” by Finnegan and Hodges, although they have help in restoring, maintaining, erecting and dismantling from a group of 35 tradesmen they call “The God Squad,” who donate their time and effort.
Finnegan said he and Hodges have already invited Francis Cardinal George to give the blessing a year from now, when the nativity scene turns 30.