July 7, 2001 - Reported in
Tampa tribune. Written by Michelle Bearden. Clearwater FL -The
Wooden crucifix is love's labor. A Texas artisan says God told
him to make a crucifix for an unknown place: the "Virgin
Mary" building. For nearly three years, a giant blue tarp
hid a towering form in front of the building made famous by the
Virgin Mary-like image on its side.
Motorists passing by U.S.
19 and Drew Street wondered about the mysterious cover, as did
the worshipers who still come to pray before Mary. Thursday, the
secret was unveiled: A 21-foot, 1 1/2-ton Jesus-adorned crucifix,
all hand-carved from a giant cedar tree.
"God gave me a message
to do it," said Felix Avalos, a 65-year-old LaRue, Texas,
artisan. "I have no idea if it's the largest crucifix of
its kind. But to me it is." Avalos
said God gave him a vision of a crucifix in the clouds. Three
days later, he said, he got a divine message to carve a cross
at the place where Mary appears.
He said he remembered reading
about an image of the Madonna that was noticed on a Clearwater
office building Dec. 17, 1996. He learned Shepherds
of Christ, an Ohio-based Catholic ministry, was maintaining
the site. He contacted the ministry's president, John Weickert.
"We were complete strangers,"
said Weickert, whose organization has purchased the building.
"Of course, we wondered if it was a good idea to let him
undertake such a huge project. Then we realized Felix was sent
to us by God." Avalos
put aside his livelihood carving carousel figures. He purchased
a giant cedar tree from a Texas rancher and transported it 1,037
miles via a truck.
On Oct. 20, 1998, he began
the project, usually working overnight under the tarp to protect
the wood from the elements. Avalos
earned no fee for his labor of love - Shepherds of Christ provided
him room and board with ministry volunteers. He also gave up the
companionship of his wife of 44 years and their seven grown boys.
Finally, in the middle of
the night on June 3, he made the last cut. Overcome with emotion,
he called his wife in tears. "I
can't begin to describe the joy," he said. "This
completes the picture," Weickert said. "We have Mary,
who leads people to Jesus. And now we have a Jesus that people