Artisan Carves Giant Crucifix Following Vision

 

 

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 can see."

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