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Dressed as the Wise Men, Tim Sasek, foreground, Ted Menzel and Alan Swiecicki place their gifts in front of the Nativity scene in St. Mary Church in Bellevue. The costumed presentation is part of celebrating Epiphany at the parish. Photo by Joe Ruff/Staff.

Parishioners share the message of the Magi

The journey of the Magi bearing gifts to the Christ child comes to life each Epiphany at St. Mary Church in Bellevue.

This year, parishioners Ted Menzel, Tim Sasek and Alan Swiecicki will portray the three Wise Men on the feast day, celebrated Jan. 8, to teach children during the parish’s Children’s Liturgy of the Word at the 9:30 and 11 a.m. Masses.

"It’s a time-honored tradition," said Menzel, who has organized the effort for about 20 years.

Menzel and his wife, Cindy, coordinate the children’s liturgy and began the Epiphany practice to make the feast day more meaningful for the children.

Wearing colorful robes and crowns, the Wise Men lead the entrance procession for Mass and kneel with their gifts in front of the church’s Nativity scene until children, ages 4 through fourth-grade, are dismissed to the Children’s Liturgy of the Word.

Then they proceed with the children to the parish center downstairs, where Cindy begins the day’s lesson. After the Gospel is read, the three men teach the children about the meaning of their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

They also encourage the children to reflect on their faith and gifts they can give to Jesus, Menzel said.

And they pray with each child, reminding them of the love Jesus has for them, saying "Jesus loves you. Remember to always follow him," he said.

"It’s neat to see the wonder and awe in the children’s eyes," Menzel said, "and to share the beautiful lesson of how they can also bring their own gifts to the Christ child."

After the children return to the church, the Wise Men lead the offertory procession and place their gifts in front of the manger.

Menzel has been a mainstay as a Wise Man, but other parishioners have taken on the role over the years. Swiecicki, who with his wife, Melissa, also are catechists for the Children’s Liturgy of the Word, is participating as a king for his fifth consecutive year.

"It’s special being able to be a part of the service and portray the story of the three kings and what it means to the Catholic faith," Swiecicki said. "It gives me an opportunity to reflect on what the whole Christmas season means.

"Melissa and I have 9- and 11-year old boys," he said, "and it’s been fun to watch their reactions over the years. They know it’s Dad, but they’re still not sure. Even the kids who know you look at you funny, trying to figure it out."

For Sasek, who also helps with children’s liturgy, this will be his third year as a king.

Donning the costumes and playing the roles makes the story of the Wise Men come alive for children, Sasek said, including his 6-year-old son, Andrew, who is convinced the decorated box his father carries is full of "real gold or candy."

And his 9-year-old daughter, Jillian, enjoys having him and his wife, Mary, involved in the parish and the community, Sasek said.

"I just enjoy seeing all the children’s faces," he said. "It helps them connect with the story."

The Wise Men gather in the church entryway before Mass, Menzel said. "It’s fun just seeing the people come in and the smiles on their faces, and people bringing their children and explaining about the Wise Men."

And the yearly ritual never becomes routine, he said. "There’s always an excitement, and each year, it’s new to many of the children.

"The things they say and share with us warm our hearts and bring the message so clearly back to us," Menzel said. "When I thank the guys for participating, they say, ‘oh no, we get so much more back than we give.’"

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