St. Aloysius makes its own WYD cross

By Hilary Anderson | Contributor
Sunday, May 8, 2011

Eleven young people from St. Aloysius Parish, 2300 W. Le Moyne St., will see their efforts realized in August when they fly to Spain for World Youth Day. They each will take with them a piece of their pilgrim cross, made especially for the occasion.

“It is going to be an amazing experience for these young people who range in age from 16 to 21 years,” said Father Nicholas Desmond, pastor.

“We started planning for this more than two years ago and set up a scholarship-type program whereby our young people could earn their way [to WYD],” Desmond said. “Since many could not afford the cost, we designed a series of activities. Each had a dollar value. We looked for donations and sponsors.”

The program included a series of formation, education, fundraising and service activities. Participants could only miss a couple activities to remain in the program.

The formation activities involved attendance at Masses, retreats and talks about growing one’s faith. Education meetings had guest speakers and talks about religious sites in Spain. Fund-raisers were car washes and bake sales among others. Service activities included help cleaning the church and decorating it for holidays and events.

A cross tradition

The international WYD has a pilgrim cross that travels from the different host countries and dioceses typically make their own crosses for their pilgrims. The initial idea of making a cross for St. Aloysius’ pilgrims came from Desmond.

“How it came about was something in which the Holy Spirit had a hand,” said Christian Charity Sister Juliana Miska, St. Aloysius’ director of pastoral development.

She, Desmond and another pastoral associate were attending a fundraiser at St. Cornelius, one of their sharing parishes.

“I went looking for new ways to bring our youth groups closer together,” said Sister Juliana.

The group brought along a prize basket for St. Cornelius’ silent auction that included a dinner for four at St. Aloysius’ rectory.

Providential meeting

Members of St. Cornelius’ Holy Name Society won the dinner and one of the members who claimed the dinner was architect Patrick Murphy.

“During the dinner Father Desmond told us about his idea of making a pilgrim cross for WYD,” said Murphy. “On the strength of what he had in mind, we worked together and came up with a design from which I made an architectural drawing.”

The answer of where to get the wood came quickly. St. Cornelius had several solid oak pews it no longer needed. Then Murphy contacted St. Cornelius parishioner Mike Mellon who was a cabinetmaker to make the cross.

Mellon was moving his business and did not have room to make the entire cross. However, he did have a friend, Hector Martinez, who also was a woodworker and cabinetmaker. He had space in his shop, H.B. Woodworks, and agreed to work on the cross.

Mellon did smaller detail work and painting.

The finished pilgrim cross stands in its own base and is just under five feet tall. At the top are leaves, each signed on the back by one of the youth who will attend WYD.

A crown contains the WYD logo. In the middle are two icons — Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Perpetual Help. At the bottom is a Chicago skyline and waves representing Lake Michigan.

“The entire cross is interlocked, made without artificial fasteners,” said Mellon.

The St. Aloysius’ pilgrims will carry the pieces of the cross in their luggage.

“It’s symbolic and practical,” said Josh Smyser, parish youth minister. “We won’t worry about shipping costs or going through customs with something metal. It’s easy to put back together.”

Preparing for the trip and building the cross were win-win activities for everyone.

“It was a work of love and giving back for what I’ve received,” said Martinez. “I hope these young people will have learned from their experiences and give back to someone else when their time comes.”

Eleven youth from the parish will attend WYD. Those interviewed said building the cross and preparing for August’s pilgrimage has been worthwhile.

Omar Ortiz and his brother Angel are among the group.

“I wasn’t sure about getting involved but it was fun,” he said. “I liked it and learned much about my faith. ”

Tasiana Villalobos agreed.

“This process helped me deepen my faith and got me more involved in my church,” she said. “I am so thrilled. I might even get to meet the pope.”