Why a purple towel?
If you have followed the news online in the past day or so, you have probably seen reports about the newborn baby that was left -- umbilical chord still attached -- in a manger scene inside a church in Queens.
It has been interesting to follow the coverage as it developed, with a strong burst of holiday sentiment from news producers everywhere who have been quick to proclaim, "It's a Christmas miracle!"
Ah, but there are some intriguing fine details in this story that are worth pondering. Let's start with an early Reuters report, as circulated by Religion News Service. This is pretty much the whole story:
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A newborn with his umbilical cord still attached was found lying in a manger at a New York church, police said on Tuesday.
At Holy Child Jesus Church in the borough of Queens on Monday, the custodian found the crying infant wrapped in towels in the indoor nativity scene he had set up just before his lunch break, a New York police spokesman said.
Father Christopher Ryan Heanue, one of the priests at the church, said he and others placed a clean towel around the baby while waiting for paramedics to show up.
“The beautiful thing is that this woman found in this church -- which is supposed to be a home for those in need -- this home for her child,” Heanue said, referring to the person he assumes left the baby there.
“A young couple in our parish would love to adopt this child and keep this gift in our community. It would make a great Christmas miracle,” Heanue said.
There were questions, early on, about whether the mother who left the baby inside the church would be protected from prosecution under the fine details of New York state's safe haven or "Moses" law, which allows a newborn to be left anonymously at designated locations -- as long as the baby is given to an appropriate person.
In this case, the child was simply wrapped in towels and placed in the manger -- period.
When I read the early reports, I was curious to find out precisely what kind of church this was. It was interesting, to me, that its leaders already had a Nativity scene set up in its sanctuary -- even before the first Sunday in the season of Advent, which leads to the 12-day Christmas season that begins on Dec. 25.
The New York Times lede did -- sort of -- get that detail right:
For a few moments, the sight could have been confused for a miraculous arrival ahead of the Christmas season: A newborn baby, hours old and full term, appeared within a nativity scene at a Queens church on Monday.
But the story of how the baby got onto the stage inside the Holy Jesus Child Church in the Richmond Hill neighborhood was much more earthly, the police said: A woman, seen on video, had arrived with the boy wrapped in a towel, his umbilical cord still attached, and departed without him.
On Tuesday afternoon, detectives were seeking to speak with the woman, who was believed to be the child’s mother.
Apparently, in New York media, a church is Roman Catholic unless stated otherwise. In this case, it is certainly interesting that this mother chose to leave her newborn in a church with a highly symbolic name -- Holy Child Jesus Catholic Parish.
Was that a coincidence of did the mother seek that church out by name?
I raise this question because of another consistent detail in recent updates on this story. Clearly, this Catholic parish had already put up its Nativity scene -- empty -- as part of its decorations for the reflective, penitential Advent season, which begins this coming Sunday.
And what liturgical color, in Western liturgical traditions, is associated with Advent? That would be purple, or perhaps deep blue, because of its association with royalty.
So did anyone in the newsrooms covering this story note this detail? Has anyone heard of Advent? This is from The New York Post:
Cradling the newborn in her arms, the young woman can be seen in surveillance footage from a nearby 99 Cent Store as she walks down Jamaica Avenue and enters the shop at around 12:55 p.m. Monday. She peruses the shelves and picks up what appears to be the purple towel she used to wrap up the baby boy before leaving him in the crèche that had been set up inside the Holy Child Jesus Church in Richmond Hills.
After paying, the woman grabs her bag and leaves. She would later abandon the baby and make off without being seen.
Why a purple towel, the color that would fit the Advent decorations?
Why did she choose Holy Child Jesus Church?
Stay tuned, to say the least. I think the reporters covering this story may need to do a bit of homework on the Advent season.