Erin and Joe Gesmundo Pilot photo/ Courtesy the Gesmundos
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READING -- Imagine experiencing life in the time of Jesus’ birth -- entering into Bethlehem, seeing the Jewish homes, tasting the food, meeting the innkeeper.
Parishioners at St. Agnes parish in Reading can do just that and more, thanks to the hard work and dedication of people like Erin and Joe Gesmundo.
Together with a host of volunteers, the Gesmundos run a parish event entitled A Night in Bethlehem, where parishioners follow in the footsteps of Mary and Joseph -- they take part in the census, enter into Bethlehem, taste the food of the time, get to meet the innkeepers and even witness a living nativity on the parish grounds.
“Our kids are more excited about A Night in Bethlehem than about the presents they are going to get for Christmas,” Erin said. The couple’s two children are ages 7 and 3.
According to Joe, the idea for A Night in Bethlehem came about last year as Erin was researching vacation Bible schools with the idea of starting one at St. Agnes.
“Erin said, ‘I think this is something that we really should have in our parish,’” Joe explained.
Erin then approached their pastor, Father Stephen Rock, who immediately agreed.
“The problem was that it was already October,” Erin recounted, “and it was incredible, the number of people we needed to make it run.”
Yet the needed volunteers poured in, and the event proved to be a “real community builder,” she continued.
“Every time we turned around, God really provided,” added Joe
“It was life-consuming, but it was truly wonderful,” said Erin.
Aside from their involvement in A Night in Bethlehem, the Gesmundos volunteer at St. Agnes in a number of other ways. They both sing in the parish choir. Joe, 41, is a member of the Family Liturgy committee; Erin, 39, is a member of a mother’s group.
In addition, the two are involved in His Helping Hand -- a parish program that provides meals for people going through a life-changing event, such as an illness or the death of a loved one.
“It helps bring the community together,” explained Erin, “and it also lets the person know that there is a whole community there to support them when they most need it.”
The Gesmundos experienced that support firsthand in 2003 when their second child tragically passed away. Erin recalled how, for months, His Helping Hand provided meals for them.
“It really let us know people cared,” she said. “That’s part of why we love our parish so much.”
Both Erin and Joe Gesmundo were raised Catholic -- he grew up on Long Island, N.Y.; she was the child of an Air Force pilot and moved many times in her childhood.
In fact, chuckled Erin, it was their faith that motivated a mutual friend to set them up on a date.
“Our friend said, ‘You’re both religious, you’re perfect for each other,’” she recalled. One year later, in 2000, the couple was engaged.
Their faith continues to be an important part of their lives.
“My faith for me is my compass,” Joe said pensively. “It keeps me grounded and moving in the right direction.”
St. Agnes Parish, Reading
Year established -- 1904
Pastor -- Father Stephen B. Rock
Parochial Vicar -- Father Edward T. Malone
Business Manager -- Madeline A. Derro
Religious Education Coordinator -- Paula Black
Confirmation Coordinator -- Andrea Cutone
First Eucharist Coordinator -- Nancy A. Pothier
Youth Coordinator -- Michael Carter