What it takes to put together a 15-foot nativity scene

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THE UA&P belen team have been setting up a 15-foot nativity scene overnight every year for 14 years. — CARLO CHRISTIAN CABRERA

FOR THE PAST 14 years, a group of friends have come together on the night of Dec. 7 to put together the belen or nativity scene at the UA&P Sancta Stella Maria Orientis Oratory.

Weeks before the day, the belen team chooses a particular theme and design, and since this is an annual affair, themes are never repeated. Work begins immediately after the selection is made. The regular volunteers — carpenters, painters, electricians, architects, engineers, a sculptor and an artistic director — know their respective roles so work is systematic, orderly, and well-coordinated.

The members of the team take charge of fixing the figures. Former University President Dr. Jose Maria Mariano has the special task of dressing up Joseph and the three Kings, which takes a couple of weeks. UA&P Associate Professor Dr. Bett Ramirez, who is also a sculptor and painter, makes sure the angels look light and floating. Campus Maintenance and Planning Manager Architect Raymund Go and UA&P Instructor Art Vito Cruz direct the carpenters on the overall structural work.

This year’s theme of ruined columns was quite a challenge because it required the gigantic structures to look authentic. Nevertheless, Mang Iran, Celso, and Ando, the resident carpenters of UA&P who have been with the belen team since 2004, managed to make it look rustic by adding texture to the columns. Mang Efren, who used to assist Dr. Ramirez in painting the structure, did the paint himself this time around. The fireplace that he painted looked so realistic that the student volunteers simply put broken pots under to match the piece.

Managing Director of the Assets and Facilities Management engineer Paul Lazarte, Building and Equipment Maintenance Supervisor Randy Arellano and the rest of the team assemble the figures into the structure that is 15 feet high.

Then Joseph and the Virgin Mary, the three Kings, and the angels are brought to the Chapel altar, carefully positioned by Mang Iran.

The finishing touches and additional detailing are done by the women of the belen team, namely Lani, Edwina, Juliet, and Lynith. Together with Elvie Roque, the Oratory supervisor, these ladies always manage to restore the splendor of the figures year after year.

Work goes on until past midnight, sometimes until 3 a.m., or until the lighting effects are installed. The belen needs to be nothing but beautiful since by Dec. 8, hundreds of mass goers celebrate the Feast of Immaculate Conception at the Stella Orientis Chapel. These are the first people to feast their eyes on the belen, reveling in the magnificence and exuberance of the handiwork that happened the night before, thanks to these unsung heroes who worked overtime to bring the beauty and distinction of the Holy Family, year after year.