Niagara Gazette — In a very special place wrapped in twinkling lights and festive holiday decor, a devoted man with a sparkle in his eyes and filled with the spirit of the season, crafts lovely gifts and carefully restores precious artifacts.
Throughout his little community there are about a dozen helpers, deeply immersed in sharing the spirit of Christmas, but the story they celebrate is not so much about a jolly old elf but instead what many believe is the true meaning of the holiday, the birth of the baby Jesus in the manger.
Fr. Julio Ciavaglia, whose workshop is crowded with stained glass projects, chipped statues and broken religious items, is director of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston, which is decked out for the annual Festival of Lights, home to a collection of artwork and artifacts which are available for sale there, not just during the annual holiday festival at the shrine but throughout the year.
The Barnabite priest, born and raised in Niagara Falls, started his renovation experiences at the shrine as a young man when his mother brought him in to help restore donated items there. Around that time, a calling to the priesthood won over art school and he joined the Barnabite fathers who oversee the shrine. The Barnabites sent him to Italy for four years where he came to understand how spritual artifacts help to make the faith visual.
“When you live in Rome for four years you fall in love with old art,” he said.
Eventually, the priest came full circle back to the region, and has been director of the shrine for the past 25 years where he initiated the Festival of Lights. His job - to keep people coming - has been made increasingly difficult of late.
“We’re hurting because of the economy and because of the border,” he said, noting that border restrictions have cut attendance by more than half.