July 28, 2006

Share prayer with Jesus: Interactive sculpture at St. Christopher Parish depicts Last Supper

By Mary Ann Wyand

Imagine sitting next to Jesus during the Last Supper. What would you say to Christ? How would this experience affect your faith?

A new interactive sculpture at St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis will invite people to sit outdoors at a table beside a life-size image of Christ and spend time in prayer or reflection.

Father Michael Welch, pastor of the Indianapolis West Deanery parish at 5301 W. 16th St., hopes people will “visit with Jesus” often at “The Last Supper” sculpture.

It will be blessed during a 10:30 a.m. dedication ceremony on July 30 in front of the Parish Activity Center and parish office. Parishioners and guests will then walk to the church for Mass. The public is invited to participate in the dedication and liturgy.

Father Welch said the bronze sculpture of Jesus breaking bread will be illuminated at night so people can spend time there whenever they want—or need—to pray to God.

“I think it’s going to be an opportunity for evangelization for people that says, ‘This is what St. Christopher’s is all about,’ ” Father Welch said. “For us at St. Christopher’s, the Eucharist is most important.”

A plaque mounted near the sculpture explains the purpose of this one-of-a-kind prayer experience.

“As Jesus and his first disciples gathered around a table on the eve of his Passion,” the plaque reads, “these empty seats are an invitation for you to sit with Jesus and pray, allowing Christ to nourish your spirit and body.”

In a catalog featuring his artwork, master sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz of Toronto, Canada, describes this work as “a powerful and traditional image of Our Lord breaking bread while seated at the center of this interactive sculpture of ‘The Last Supper.’ The 12 empty seats invite and challenge viewers to sit at Christ’s table and become his disciples today.”

Father Welch said he thinks people will be eager to pray in new ways in this unique setting.

“The parish community is excited about the aspect of being able to sit down and perhaps share supper with the Lord,” he said, “[and] being able to bring children over to explain what the Lord is doing at the Passover Supper.”

The response so far has been overwhelming, Father Welch said. “We just fell in love with it and we wanted people [passing by] on 16th Street to see it.”

Parishioner Steve Quinnette, who has served the parish as maintenance manager for 11 years, supervised the construction of the concrete table and seats, which are textured so they appear to be made of wood.

“It’s not just a sculpture or statue of Christ,” Quinnette said. “It’s interactive art. It’s a prayer experience. … This will be the first [installation] of this sculpture in the world, and the artist is extremely excited about it.”

Quinnette said the construction workers who made the table and seats were “absolutely amazed” when they were shown the design with the bronze sculpture of Jesus breaking bread and the bronze chalice and plate.

“When we said, ‘We’re making a table for Jesus,’ they took great pride in what they were doing,” he said. “They knew what it meant to us and how awesome it would be when it was done.”

Quinnette said he can’t wait to see people sit down at the table with Jesus.

“It kind of draws you in for a closer look,” he said. “I think even people who aren’t that spiritually focused, who are just walking down the street and see it, may come up and sit down and say a prayer or talk to God and Jesus.”

Neighborhood residents have asked about the sculpture, Father Welch said, and people from nearby faith communities are excited about seeing this contemporary depiction of “The Last Supper” on the parish lawn.

“The Eucharist is central to any Christian,” he said. “People can share that in common and have a place to come to pray whenever they want to.”

The dramatic outdoor installation was conceived as a place for people of all ages to talk to God in prayer, grieve the loss of a loved one or celebrate their faith, Father Welch said. He envisions incorporating the sculpture into school and religious education classes.

Children preparing for First Communion and adults enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program can benefit from spending time with “The Last Supper” sculpture, he said. It also will welcome people who are waiting in line for help at the food pantry, attending the parish festival or participating in a Catholic Youth Organization sport.

“How God interacts in each person’s life is obviously individual and personal,” Father Welch said. “What we’re hoping to do is create the conditions for the possibility of something happening in someone’s life. … Somebody can sit there and be prayerful, can come there with good things or come there with some burdens.”

He expects the sculpture to be seen by people from all over the world who attend Mass at St. Christopher Church while in town for races at the nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s a place of prayer for anyone wanting to have a closer experience of their faith,” Father Welch said. “There is an answer for every need when you sit down at the table with Jesus.” †


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