Prayers like rising incense: St. Francis of Assisi parish welcomes new Shrine of the Risen Christ

January 15, 2019

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza blesses the newly constructed Shrine of the Risen Christ as St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Houston Dec. 16. The shrine carries significant importance to St. Francis of Assisi parishioners. Photo courtesy of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

HOUSTON — The parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Houston had two reasons to rejoice on Gaudate Sunday.

The parish, located in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood northeast of downtown Houston, lit the pink “candle of joy,” according to pastor Father Martin Eke, MSP, and also welcomed the dedication of its new Shrine of the Risen Christ on the church grounds adjacent to Dabney Street.

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza presided over the Mass prior to the dedication ceremony that Dec. 16 morning at the parish. Wearing rose-colored vestments, Archbishop Fiorenza dedicated the carving, itself wrapped in bright white and rich red fabrics, and blessed the sculpture with holy water. Bishop Peter Iornzuul Adoboh of the Diocese of Katsina-Ala in Nigeria also participated in the Mass and dedication ceremony.

Carved from a cypress tree from Bayou Teche, Louisiana, by Brandon Babineaux of New Iberia, Louisiana, the statue stands tall under a newly constructed metal structure, protecting it from the elements and offering parishioners a new place to worship and meditate the mystery of the Risen Christ. Red flowers accented the path to the shrine, while tall green palms in earthenware pots underscored the height of the carving.

The tall sculpture, a dark wooden color, depicts the Risen Christ reaching His arms upward and outward in a victorious and joyful fashion. The Shrine is next to the parish’s Marian Shrine, both situated between St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School and the parish’s church sanctuary.

A newly fashioned plaque near the carving explains the Shrine’s importance to Catholics and especially the faithful at St. Francis of Assisi.

“The image of the Risen Christ is a symbol of freedom,” the plaque explained. “This image was sculpted from a cypress tree from the historic Bayou Teche. Bayou Teche originated in Port Barre, St. Landry Parish, more than 250 years ago. The bayou winded its way through St. Martin, Iberia, St. Mary and several other parishes in Louisiana. Some of the towns include Port Barre, Leonville, Cecilia, Breaux Bridge, Loreauville, New Iberia, Jeanerette, Charenton and others.”

According to the plaque, the image of the Risen Christ is meaningful for St. Francis of Assisi parishioners because many of them came from those same regions in Louisiana.

“Enslaved Africans lived and worked in sugarcane plantations, rice farms and other crop farms along the Bayou Teche,” it continued. “The bayou received the blood, sweat and tears of the slaves and nourished the cypress tree. The image of the Risen Christ represents the freedom of our ancestors and a reminder of our own freedom. We are, therefore, a Resurrection People. The old has gone, the new is here!” A reference that refers to 2 Corinthians 5:17: “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

The plaque concludes with a prayer of blessing for all who contributed to the project and asks that God grant the prayers of all who pray at the Shrine of the Risen Christ.

In his homily earlier that day, Father Martin encouraged his parishioners to “keep faith and remain close to God” as the Advent season drew to a close.

“There are many desolate people who are going through various kinds of crises that stifle joy in their life and leave them sad most times,” Father Eke said. “May the prophecy of Zephaniah come to fulfillment in their lives. May God, in His infinite mercy, replace their sadness with joy. As our Advent journey continues and as we approach the celebration of Christmas, may the joy of the Lord be our strength.”