Religious leaders dedicate creche at Downtown plaza

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Away in the manger, it was dry.

Everywhere else, it was wet. But that didn't bother the scores of people who gathered in the U.S. Steel Tower plaza on midday Friday, sheltering themselves with umbrellas or hoods, to watch the annual dedication of the Pittsburgh Creche by a diverse array of bishops and other church leaders.

The life-sized statues of biblical figures, including the baby Jesus in his manger, were kept dry by the creche roof. The tableau -- including Mary, Joseph and adoring shepherds, wise men, animals and angels, one with a banner proclaiming, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" -- was surrounded by the clerics as they dedicated it amid music, prayer and quiet meditation.

"This creche stands in the midst of our city as a reminder of God's great love for all humanity," said Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop David Zubik, as church bells rang dramatically.

He took up the imagery of Light Up Night, scheduled to start a few hours after the dedication, describing the creche as "a sign of hope for all of our brothers and sisters as a token of the presence and compassion of Jesus Christ, the light of the world, for all who are weary or downhearted. May their lives be brightened by the prayerful meditation this scene inspires."

The crowd sang carols such as "Joy to the World" to honor the occasion. The school choirs and bands from St. Mary of the Assumption in Glenshaw and St. Ursula in Hampton presented music.

Even with the rain, "Pittsburghers show up" for the annual dedication, Bishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh said afterward. "It's a great annual event."

The Pittsburgh Creche, honoring the birth of Jesus, is the world's only authorized replica of the Vatican's creche erected at Saint Peter's Square in Rome, organizers say.

The creche was first set up in 1999 by Christian Leaders Fellowship, an ecumenical group of church leaders, and is supported by the Creche Endowment Committee as well as local unions, business organizations and individuals. It was set up on the private spot, near a menorah display honoring the Jewish season of Hanukkah, in the wake of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Allegheny County could not have a nativity scene on its courthouse steps.

The Christian Leaders Fellowship includes representatives of various church traditions, including Roman and Byzantine Catholic; Presbyterian; Anglican, Episcopalian; Baptist; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Greek Orthodox; United Methodist; Salvation Army; and United Church of Christ.

Peter Smith: 412-263-1416, or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

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