Some of you may have heard that the manger scene in front of our office building on Alhambra Plaza in Coral Gables was defaced and vandalized this week, and that the handcrafted baby Jesus figure was stolen. The incident that occurred early Wednesday morning was covered by all of the local television and print media.
Needless to say, we are very sad about this.
The manger scene has been on display at Christmastime since the building opened in 2002.
The site itself has a noble history. For 50 years, it was the location of the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Gables, a landmark in the community. When I bought their site for the Alhambra Towers office building in 1998, they asked me, as a condition of the sale, to preserve a memorial to the Church in the building. I did that by purchasing the stained glass windows of the Church and installing them in the lobby, by recreating the carillon in the west bell tower, and by erecting the manger scene as a visual reminder each year of the true meaning of Christmas.
I searched the country and overseas to find the finest piece of art depicting the birth of Christ. I did not want to settle for something that was cheap, but wanted a fine piece of handcrafted art, which I found in Italy and had shipped over. I wanted this for the people of Coral Gables, my hometown, to enjoy for many years.
It was very expensive, so all the pieces were secured with steel bolts and steel plates. The scene is monitored by security cameras, which did capture the crime that occurred at 4:19 a.m. Wednesday on surveillance video that has been turned over to the police.
In order for the three men clearly seen on the video to have stolen the figure, it took a great deal of effort for them to rip it from its steel security bolts. The men also broke off the fingers of the shepherd and a wise man, and took the time to deface every single figure in the scene – 17 figures in all -with blue and yellow spray paint.
Because the disfiguration and damage was so violent and intentional, requiring the purchase of paints, the disfiguration of multiple figures, and the theft of the Jesus figurine, it was clearly a premeditated job and intentional. Because we know they were men and not children, it does not seem like a childish prank.
To me it is a hate crime.
The rustic structure of the manger scene was originally conceived and built by a highly respected Shaman of the Seminole Indian tribe, Bobby Henry, (better known as the “Rainmaker”). He initiated it with a blessing of the site in the four directions.
We have received a heartwarming response from the community of emails and calls offering condolences, contributions and even offering to loan us a substitute baby Jesus figurine.
A rabbi friend offered his condolences and told me yesterday that his synagogue in the Brickell area was spray painted with swastikas eight months ago.
I am confident you will agree with me that this is not what we want to tolerate in our community for any religion, race or creed. We are so blessed to live in a beautiful place, richly diverse, and certainly it matters how we treat one another.
I forgive the men that did this, and hope they will return the figure.
The good news is that the manger scene has been cleaned up and most of the spray paint has been removed. The broken figures will be repaired and the Baby Jesus figure will be replaced as soon as possible… maybe by Christmas morning.
In the meantime, it is back on display and available for everyone to see in front of Alhambra Towers, at the corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Alhambra Plaza (121 Alhambra Plaza, Coral Gables).
Although the figure of the Baby Jesus is still missing, the Spirit of Love and Forgiveness of the living Christ is Alive and Well and available to all of us this Christmas and all yearlong.
May this sad incident help us to remember the importance of the true meaning of Christmas.
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