Christmas in Toledo

In Toledo Ohio, during the Christmas Season of 2001, the theft of Two Christmas Trees became an occasion for almsgiving.

Dear ....

Regrettably, Fr. Ari(1) didn't win the house lighting contest. However there was a wonderful Christmas story which came out of his exuberance for Christmas lighting.

As I mentioned he's like a little kid when it comes to Christmas trees, lights, and decorations. He had a decorated tree in every room in his home and personally purchased and decorated several (5) trees for our community center.

I'd come to the community center one afternoon on some choir business and found him setting up two more artificial trees with lights for the outside of our community center.

Remember the lousy neighborhood we're located in? I asked him laughingly, "And how long do you think those will last outside, Fr. Ari?" He replied that he was chaining them to a pair of buttresses and "had faith that the neighbors would leave them alone." So I helped him finish up, a little embarrassed for sounding like such a Scrooge. I mused to myself, "In every other neighborhood Christmas decorations are left alone. Why not in crime-ridden, cocaine-infested, inner-city Toledo?"

Ten days later, he and I had our Joy-Hope group and their parents across the street from our Cathedral at a Catholic nursing home entertaining the old-timers with Christmas ca roles and songs of the season. While we were over there, someone cut loose the two trees and stole them. I don't know if Father Ari filed a police report. But somehow the story made the newspaper and began receiving radio and TV coverage on a daily basis. It became a cause celeb.

Our parish began receiving checks in the mail from strangers who wanted to help our "poor" inner-city parish replace its trees. A local nursery sent over a magnificent live Colorado spruce tree and planted it in a little plot of ground in front of our community center. A radio talk-show host and the mayor made arrangements to come over to our parish on Christmas Eve morning and help Fr. Ari [and many of our parishioners] decorate the new permanently planted tree. It was quite a show of community-spirited, holiday joyfulness.

But the real story was how Fr. Ari handled it all.

The trees were located. Apparently they were taken to a local bar and sold for $10 a piece. The bar kept one. Fr. Ari went over to the bar and gave the owner the heeby-jeebies about it. Fr. Ari had a beer and left the tree there.

Some guy purchased the other tree and took it home (3 blocks from our church) to his girl friend and her impoverished family. The girlfriend, seeing the stolen tree account on TV called the Cathedral and suggested that her "new" tree might be one of the stolen trees. Fr. Ari visited her home in the public projects, identified the tree, looked around at her surroundings, and told her to keep the tree and the lights, but asked for the timer.

He came back to the parish and took up a collection for this lady and her children ($300 in cash, $300 in grocery coupons) and presented it all to her. There wasn't' a dry eye among our staff as she received everything at our community center. Even our quiet janitor shed tears.

This has been quite a Christmas in our parish, made more poignant by our priest, his holiday joy, and his Christian actions in the true spirit of Christmas. He used the entire story as his Christmas Eve sermon and, again, there wasn't a dry eye in the congregation. I'll never forget this Christmas as long as I live. And of course, we now have a new tradition in our parish. We'll be lighting and decorating a Colorado spruce every Christmas Eve day from now on.

1. Father Ari Demaskos is an Orthodox Christian Priest in Toledo

From: [] Sent: Thursday, January 10, 2002 6:03 AM To: Subject: Re: A Christmas Favor

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