Peruvians carve life-size Way of the Cross for new Las Vegas parish

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Fraser

By Barbara J. Fraser

HUARAZ, Peru (CNS) — A
grim-faced Pontius Pilate stares straight ahead, while Jesus, bound with rope,
stands beside him, head down. Jesus turns a tortured face heavenward as he
falls for the first time under the weight of a stone cross.

Mary places a hand on Jesus’
arm, as if beseeching, and he looks at her with compassion, but faces forward,
one hand open toward whatever lies ahead. The journey toward Calvary continues,
and finally a white tear glistens in Mary’s eye as she holds her son’s broken

Five young Peruvian stone
carvers have spent the past year fashioning the life-size Stations of the Cross
from six-foot-tall blocks of Italian marble for a parish in the United States.

The figures, which went on
exhibit April 8 at the cathedral in this Andean city, will eventually be
shipped to Las Vegas to become part of a prayer garden at Holy Spirit Catholic
Church, the newest parish in the Las Vegas Diocese, which is expected to be
completed in early 2018.

“When we first saw the (carving
of) the body of Christ placed in (the) arms of Mary, his mother, it brought
tears to our eyes,” said Father William Kenny, pastor of Holy Spirit. “We
were speechless. It was so powerful.”

He, the church architect, a
deacon and the two laymen’s wives had traveled to Peru to meet the artists, who
are also making the parish’s altar, ambo and baptismal pool.

The stone carvers are members of
Artesanos Don Bosco, a program of schools and cooperatives founded by Salesian Father Ugo de Censi
in the 1970s in a village in the shadow of the snowcapped Cordillera Blanca in
central Peru.

Father Kenny and his companions visited
the program’s workshops and boarding schools, living with the students and the mainly
Italian volunteers who support the program.

“It’s like a religious
community,” Father Kenny said. “Many (of the students and artisans) came
from very poor situations, and they have strong spiritual lives.”

For Antonio Tafur, 33, who
designed all the figures and carved three of them, fashioning the Stations of
the Cross has been a labor of skill and prayer.

“I like to think about what
Jesus must have been like,” he said, looking at the agonized, upturned
face of the figure of the fallen Jesus. “There is passion, there is love,
there is mercy.”

As Jesus cries out to his father,
there is also a sense of abandonment — an emotion Tafur has also known. His
parents separated when he was young, and he spent his early years living with
his mother, who worked long hours to support her family.

By the time he was a teenager,
he was on a dangerous path shared by many young people in rough, low-income
neighborhoods in Lima, Peru’s sprawling capital.

“In Lima, I did stupid
things,” he said. “Sometimes I skipped school. I partied.”

When he was 13, his father took
him to spend two months in his (father’s) hometown of Chacas near Huaraz, where
Tafur joined the Don Bosco “oratorio,” a group of young people who
met to pray, reflect and help others. Although they were poor, they learned to
find joy in serving those needier than themselves, he said.

Instead of returning to Lima, he
was invited to enter the Artesanos Don Bosco school, where he learned his craft
along with mathematics, literature and other academic subjects.

On weekends, he and his
classmates helped elderly villagers, cutting firewood, tending their fields or
repairing their houses.

That is part of the rhythm of
prayer, study, work and rest that marks life in the schools, which become like families
for the students, said Dario Chiminelli, 43, an Italian volunteer who manages
the school and workshops in a village just outside the town of Huaraz, in
Peru’s central Ancash region.

Each student chooses a specialty
— carpentry, stone carving, mosaics, glass working, weaving or painting — and
receives a set of professional tools at graduation. Some strike out on their
own, while others, like Tafur, join one of the cooperatives operating in rural
parts of Peru.

Father de Censi’s vision for
Artesanos Don Bosco was to enable young people to earn a living in their home
villages, near their families, instead of migrating to Lima or other large
cities to seek work, Chiminelli said.

In Italy, he and other
volunteers did odd jobs and recycled discarded items to earn money for the program’s
outreach work in Peru and programs in Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador. A similar group
has formed in Baltimore.

Volunteers who choose to serve
in South America receive room and board, but no stipend, and they pay their own
travel expenses, he said. All the funds they collect go to help those most in

“Each place is like a hub,”
Father Kenny said of the workshops he visited, where poor local residents can
also get meals and other assistance.

“It’s a whole spiritual
community,” he said. “They seem very happy, and obviously they all
have bright futures in their profession.”

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