Statues assist in evangelization

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Travelling statues is once again the topic of our archives journey.

This past weekend I was in Greenwood at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish for the celebration of Confirmation with Bishop Joseph Kopacz. As you may recall, IHM sadly was vandalized back in January and their beloved statue of the Blessed Mother was severely damaged.

We were able to restore the statue through the gifted hands of Eyd Kazery and return her to the parish in time for the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in June.

This past Sunday for the first time I was able to see her in person adorning her newly designed place of honor in the church. Joy welled up in my heart to see her standing there watching over the congregation.

For centuries statues have adorned churches and churchyards reflecting images of our Catholic faith family. When people ask me why Catholics pray to statues, I respond by asking them if they have photos of their parents and grandparents somewhere such as the staircase wall.

I go on to explain that our statues and images of saints are similar to their family photos. The images invoke reverence for people who have inspired us, and we believe in faith to be in heaven available to offer prayers on our behalf to God. That usually does the trick and in answering the question an act of evangelization has just occurred.

JACKSON – Diocesan seminarian and some strong Belhaven University students were able to move the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Francis statues in the Bishop’s Cemetery next to the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. (Photos courtesy of Mary Woodward)

Statues at the Cathedral took center stage as tools of evangelization the week of Thanksgiving.

Last year two statues in the Bishop’s Cemetery had to be moved to prepare the grave for Bishop Joseph N. Latino. Those two statues – the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Francis – never got moved back. We had left them in place not only because the Sacred Heart looked as if it were consoling St. Francis and that is a very appropriate scene in a cemetery, but also because they weigh about 400 – 500 lbs. each.

Herein lies the evangelization moment. We have a Belhaven University baseball player named Luke from Lake Charles, Louisiana, who serves at the 10:30 Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral. He loves his Catholic faith and remarked to me one Sunday in the sacristy that there were several other Catholic players on the team who did not always make it to Mass.

Remembering the misplaced statues, I suggested perhaps we could get them interested in coming to Mass if we had some kind of service project such as moving the statues. Luke took this to heart and the Monday before Thanksgiving he showed up for the daily noon Mass at the Cathedral with several teammates.

It just so happened several of our diocesan seminarians were at Mass and just like that we had 10 strapping young men to move those two statues. Indeed, it was a Holy Spirit moment.

The bonus was we wanted the statues placed in different spots from their previous locales and the young men were so very amenable to wrangling them some 20-25 feet from where they were.

The Sacred Heart statue was first to move. He was the heavier of the two and he was too heavy for the dolly. So, they basically walked the statue into its place along the side wall of the Cathedral. At times it looked like a dance and at other times a wrestling match, but mission accomplished.

St. Francis was lighter and easily moved on the dolly to his spot overlooking the bishops’ burial plots with the Sacred Heart. Passersby may now see both statues more easily and hopefully be inspired to offer prayers for our deceased bishops.

After the project was complete, our seminarians invited the teammates into the Cathedral where I gave them an expedited tour of the stained-glass windows and sanctuary along with a little history of the diocese before they headed back to campus. A couple of the baseball players were so enthusiastic they volunteered to come back and move things whenever we needed help.

Mission accomplished. We had connected them to a parish, and they want to come back and be a part.

Evangelization 101 – invite people to church. We know the Lord uses us in creative ways to bring people closer to him. You never know who is seeking the Lord and may be inspired by your sincere invitation.