Eight-year-old Alina, a Muslim refugee from Syria, had never seen a Christmas nativity scene before last year.

But after Alina was able to secure a spot in a public elementary school in central Rome, through a program to integrate refugees led by the Catholic Church, she now knows where all the characters go and generally why there are there. "The three wise men bring pretty gifts to the baby Jesus after they follow a bright, bright star," she explains as her mother listens carefully. "The baby then grows up to become a hero."

Alina's mother, Hala, wants her daughter and her younger brother, age five, who attends a local Italian nursery school, to integrate—but only to a certain point. She says that while she means no disrespect to the Catholic Church or its teachings, she advises her daughter to "pretend it is all a fairy tale with dolls."

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