Sisters, Ore., Mar 22, 2009 (CNA) - When worshipers walk through the doors of St. Mary Church in Boise, Idaho, they are joining as allies of Good in a battle with Evil. It’s a reality sustained by art on a grand scale. Skip Armstrong, a wood carver from Sisters, Ore. was commissioned to create new church doors that stand 16 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
Carved into the broad-shouldered wood is a swirling scene — metaphor writ large in mahogany. A pregnant Virgin Mary figure stands above, backed by rays of sun as in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Below, a sword-bearing St. Michael takes on a seven-headed dragon that is striking outward in three-dimensional fury.
The scene is based on metaphors found in the Book of Revelation, in which the dragon is knocking stars out of the sky and attacking the virgin queen. It evokes both Latino and Anglo archetypes, which makes sense at a parish that is growing in the way the entire Catholic Church is growing — a mix of cultures.
“It’s a multi-ethnic parish, and all the new art that is going to the church has to be art that has to be appreciated by all the different ethnicities in the parish,” Father Thomas Faucher, the pastor, told the Idaho Statesman. “There is a tremendous need for good art in religion. Bad art hurts religion; no art hurts religion. But good art helps people come to an awareness of God.”
On the inside of the doors is a Northwest version of Noah’s Ark. Regional animals like elk, deer, coyotes and bighorn sheep emerge from the vessel in a figure-eight symbol of infinity. In a salute to Native American images of creation and life force, the ark rests on the back of a giant sea turtle and at the top of the cascade of animals, an eagle takes flight. These animal images have been Armstrong’s stock-in-trade for decades.
But in recent years, he has combined the aura of local chain saw carver with high Christian art. In 2001, he completed a set of statues for a prayer garden at St. Edward Parish in Sisters. The statues represent the patron saints of the churches in the Diocese of Baker; the faces show the pains and joys of the path to sainthood.
Father Faucher was pastor of St. Edward’s at the time and admired Armstrong’s work.
The priest first approached the sculptor about the door project in spring 2007. A Boise donor funded the work.
Armstrong, who does make rough cuts with a chainsaw before taking up hand tools, says the Boise doors were the challenge of his lifetime.
He traveled to the Central American nation of Belize and entered the jungle to find mahogany that had been blown down by Hurricane Hugo. With the help of local Mayan tribesmen, he located a log the size of a railroad car.
Armstrong is not a stranger to Central America. In the early 1970s, he explored the region in a Volkswagen van. The artifacts and sculptures in Mayan temples inspired him to be a sculptor.
Using a scaffold placed over the massive log, Armstrong did the initial work on site before having the doors shipped to his workshop near Sisters and then to Boise for installation in December.
Cranes hoisted the doors into position. Each weighs several tons.
The dramatic imagery has caused a stir in the Idaho town.
“This is in essence the classic story of the battle of good and evil. The story is ageless and part of all of our history,” Armstrong says in comments recorded by the High Desert Gallery.
While some dragon heads are in the background, symbols of evils yet to come, several heads lurch out a foot or two at those who would walk through. The door handle is the dragon’s claw.
“You have to engage the battle to get through the door,” Armstrong says.
One of the dragon’s necks straddles the two doors, so when they swing open, one evil head is lopped off, in effect.
Armstrong planned it that way. When people go into church, they become soldiers in the great fight.
The artist points out that he created the Archangel Michael with a face at ease.
“He’s totally relaxed in his role of battling evil,” Armstrong explains. “As you can guess, he has God on his side.”
He calls Mary “the catalyst” in the battle: “She stands above saying, ‘This is alright. This is the process we live with.’ If we stay above and keep our hearts pure, we have essentially already won the battle.”
St. Mary’s in Boise has Spanish Mass and a food bank.
Under renovation for months, it now also has some of the most notable art in the region.
In addition to the new doors, the church commissioned a 10-foot-tall triptych painting of the adoration of the Christ Child and a life-size bronze sculpture of Mary seated in a pew.
Armstrong realizes that he is engaged in what he calls “a contemporary rendition of a Renaissance art form.” Some of the great artworks of western civilization are found in the churches of Europe.
“The artist’s role,” he says, “is to interpret, not regurgitate.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon.
Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2009 (CNA) - A proposed Congressional bill, the International Megan’s Law, is being introduced to complement existing human trafficking laws by notifying foreign governments when a known sex offender in the United States intends to travel to their country. The bill also aims to prohibit foreign nationals who are sex offenders from entering the U.S.
The proposed legislation will encourage and provide assistance to foreign governments which do not have a system to identify and track child sex offenders. It will strongly encourage foreign governments to notify the U.S. government when a U.S. citizen is arrested, convicted or imprisoned overseas for a sex offense against a minor in that country and will include strict penalties for sex offenders’ non-compliance with their travel reporting requirements.
The bill is named for Megan Nicole Kanka. In July 1994, the seven-year-old Megan was kidnapped, raped and murdered. The assailant was a repeated sex offender who unbeknownst to neighbors was living across the street from her Hamilton Township, New Jersey home. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) recently introduced the bill into the House.
Smith also authored the nation’s first anti-trafficking law, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, to combat trafficking whose victims are primarily women and young girls.
“The International Megan’s Law builds upon the original state and federal Megan’s Law concept of notification and brings the program worldwide when a high risk sex offender decides to travel,” said Smith, whose district includes Hamilton Township.
“I know firsthand the positive impact the U.S. can have in persuading other countries to take action to protect vulnerable populations within their own borders,” Smith continued, speaking in a Friday statement. “Since the passage of my first Trafficking Victims Protection Act (PL 106-386), over 100 countries have implemented their own anti-trafficking laws and regulations to protect women and children within their own borders. The International Megan's Law is a continuation of the United States’ leadership in promoting and implementing global programs that make it more difficult for sex offenders to seek out and prey on new victims.”
He reported that informal communications between international law enforcement officials have resulted in child sex offenders being prohibited from entering the U.S., while countries suffering rampant child “sex tourism” have refused entry to convicted sex offenders after receiving prior notification.
Praising these efforts, Rep. Smith said a more systematic effort was needed.
“We simply cannot leave notification of travel of child sex offenders to random spot checks or ad hoc reviews,” he said.
Charleston, S.C., Mar 22, 2009 (CNA) - The Diocese of Charleston has announced that the ordination Mass for the new Bishop of Charleston will take place on Wednesday, March 25, with video and audio of the Mass being streamed live over the internet.
Bishop-designate Robert E. Guglielmone, a monsignor from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York succeeds Bishop Robert J. Baker, who was appointed Bishop of Birmingham, Ala. in August 2007.
The bishop-designate will be consecrated by Cardinal Edward Egan, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of New York. Bishop of Rockville Centre William Murphy and Bishop Baker will serve as co-consecrators. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, will concelebrate the Mass of Ordination.
Bishop-designate Guglielmone’s ordination and installation will be streamed live in video at www.catholic-doc.org and in audio at www.catholicradiosc.com. It will also be broadcast on South Carolina radio stations WCKI AM 1300 in the upstate region and AM 810 in the Lowcountry.
Luanda, Angola, Mar 22, 2009 (CNA) - One million people gathered in Luanda, Angola on Sunday morning for the opportunity to see Pope Benedict XVI. In his message, the Holy Father spoke of the need for prayer to obtain peace because only the light of God can overcome the great "darkness" cast by war and greed.
Beginning his speech, the Holy Father noted that the vivid description of “the destruction and ruin caused by war” in today’s readings, “echoes the personal experience of so many people in this country amid the terrible ravages of the civil war.” He added: “How true it is that war can 'destroy everything of value:' families, whole communities, the fruit of men’s labor, the hopes which guide and sustain their lives and work!”
“This experience,” the Pontiff expounded, “is all too familiar to Africa as a whole: the destructive power of civil strife, the descent into a maelstrom of hatred and revenge, the squandering of the efforts of generations of good people.” He continued, “When God’s word, a word meant to build up individuals, communities and the whole human family, is neglected, and when God’s law is 'ridiculed, despised, laughed at,' the result can only be destruction and injustice: the abasement of our common humanity and the betrayal of our vocation to be sons and daughters of a merciful Father, brothers and sisters of his beloved Son."
“Tragically,” he continued, “the clouds of evil have also overshadowed Africa, including this beloved nation of Angola.”
Benedict XVI went on to explain that we can easily think of the evils of war on a large scale: “the murderous fruits of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, the greed which corrupts men’s hearts, enslaves the poor, and robs future generations of the resources they need to create a more equitable and just society,” however we don’t think of that “insidious spirit of selfishness which closes individuals in upon themselves, breaks up families, and, by supplanting the great ideals of generosity and self-sacrifice, inevitably leads to hedonism, the escape into false utopias through drug use, sexual irresponsibility, the weakening of the marriage bond and the break-up of families, and the pressure to destroy innocent human life through abortion.”
We need God and his commandments, “not as a burden, but as a source of freedom: the freedom to become men and women of wisdom, teachers of justice and peace, people who believe in others and seek their authentic good.” He added: “God created us to live in the light, and to be light for the world around us!"
Turning to address the young people in the audience, he emphasized the importance of growing in a friendship with Christ and spreading the “Good News” among others. He urged them: “Seek his will for you by listening to his word daily, and by allowing his law to shape your lives and your relationships.”
“In this way you will become wise and generous prophets of God’s saving love,” he continued. “Become evangelizers of your own peers, leading them by your own example to an appreciation of the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and the hope of a future shaped by the values of God’s Kingdom.”
“The Church needs your witness!” Pope Benedict concluded. “Do not be afraid to respond generously to God’s call, whether it be to serve him as a priest or a religious, as a Christian parent, or in the many forms of service to others which the Church sets before you."