Pope Benedict XVI welcomed President George Bush June 9 for his first visit with the new pontiff at the Vatican. As is customary, the Pope was presented with a gift. Bush chose to give the Pope a hand-carved walking stick from Dallas resident Roosevelt Wilkerson, a ninth-grade dropout who was homeless until a few years ago.
The five-foot-sticks are unique in that they are inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
While his walking sticks have been shipped to people all over the U.S., he was not expecting one to arrive in the hands of the Pope. Bush, who owns two of the sticks, gave one to the Pope.
"I'm just dumbfounded. It's a big honor for me," Wilkerson told The Dallas Morning News. "God does things in mysterious ways."
Reporters covering the meeting heard Bush describe the stick as "a piece of art by a former homeless man from Texas ... Dallas."
"The Ten Commandments?" the Pope asked.
"The Ten Commandments, yes, sir," the president replied.
Wilkerson, 62, has been carving all his life but only began inscribing the Ten Commandments on the ash and cedar walking sticks about 15 years ago.
He collects wood for his sticks from the Trinity River banks in southern Dallas. He shears off the bark with a paring knife, and then sands the wood to a smooth surface. Next, he painstakingly carves the letters of the Ten Commandments, in block style, using a six-inch carving tool that resembles a screwdriver.
The first five Commandments are carved lengthwise around the top of the stick. The second five are carved on the bottom half. He paints the letters red, black or green, but the stick remains a natural off-white color.
"God gave me this gift," said Wilkerson, who attends St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas.
"I'm in my own little world," he said of the time spent carving in his one-room apartment. "I'm just meditating. I'm kind of a hermit."
He can make about two walking sticks a day and derives his only income from the sale of his sticks.