- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

The first Christmas Eve was a modest gathering, by most accounts, but a re-enactment of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ in a Gospel pageant last night had standing room only.
More than 3,000 parishioners many of whom were standing in the aisles, on the sides and in the rear silently looked on as youngsters proudly fulfilled roles of shepherds, Mary, Joseph and others at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast.
"Peace on Earth," angels Maria Martinez, 8, of Northwest; Greta Chwaleck, 10, of Northeast; and Rachel Sonski, 13, of Beltsville, recited together as the pageant began.
The pageant, which took place during the first of two Masses last night at the church, was performed by nine children.
The youngsters were thankful for their roles, which required two weeks of preparation.
"Christmas means togetherness and family," said Steven Vail, 10, of Hyattsville as he dressed for his role as Joseph, putting on a brown robe and equipping himself with a shepherd's staff.
A mother of two shepherds said she was honored to see her sons perform before parishioners.
Michelle Laputz of Bowie said this year it is easier to focus on true meaning of the holiday season, such as family and friends.
"In light of all that's happened, material things are kind of pointless," Mrs. Laputz said.
Her sons, Greg and Justin Laputz, 11 and 8 years old, respectively, seemed ready for their parts in the pageant, with brown robes and headdresses and wooden shepherds' staffs.
The service was led by Monsignor Michael J. Bransfield, church rector, who estimated attendance at more than 3,000 at last night's first Mass.
Church spokesman Peter Sonski of Beltsville, whose five children played roles in the pageant, predicted today's Mass will also be well-attended.
Some children suffered minor bouts of stage fright.
Rachel Sonski said she was a little nervous because this is her first year as the head angel.
But she said the main message of Christmas would shine through.
"This is a time for love and peace," Rachel said.
Elizabeth Gahl, 15, of Falls Church, who was the Mass' first reader, said Christmas always is a special time for her.
"Each year Christmas should take on a different meaning," she said. "Faith in Christ will take us through everything."

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