ABOVE: The face of the new bronze Christus at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona was meant to be an “encounter with Christ,” and a “face of great love,” said pastor Fr. Kieran Kleczewski. The Christus was dedicated April 4. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

SEDONA — A new bronze crucifix in the Chapel of the Holy Cross serves as a focal point for visitors to the chapel, said Fr. Kieran Kleczewski, pastor of the chapel and of St. John Vianney Parish in Sedona.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross, which receives approximately 3 million visitors per year, has become more of a tourist site than a chapel, Fr. Kleczewski said. When it was decreed as an official pilgrimage site for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Fr. Kleczewski said the character of the chapel began to return to its original purpose. It was then the pastor commissioned several pieces of work, including the crucifix that was dedicated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted April 4.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted incenses the new Christus at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona during the dedication ceremony April 4. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Shortly after it was installed the week before, Fr. Kleczewski recalled the facility director telling him that visitors come to the chapel, “and they kind of look at the cross, and the sit there and pray, they’re silent. She said in the 20 years she’s worked up there she’s never heard the chapel so quiet.”

In his homily, Bishop Olmsted noted that whenever an artist paints or sculpts a crucifix, he has to grapple with the contradictions of beauty and suffering.

“You cannot possibly paint a cross or sculpt a cross without making a spiritual pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that’s linked with beauty, and goodness, and truth and love,” the bishop said.

“If he does his work as a man of faith or a woman of faith, then he believes that by this holy cross Jesus redeemed the world and that the blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of Christ on the cross has brought new life into the world,” he added.

Recalling the teaching of the Church Fathers that referred to the cross as the “Tree of Life,” he noted that “just as sin and death entered the world by means of a tree — the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, so merciful redemption, and new life, enters our world through the love of Christ, poured forth on what we call the Tree of Life.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, greets James Muir, the sculptor for the Christus at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, and his wife Linda at the dedication ceremony during April 4. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted sits in contemplation in front of the new Christus at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona during the dedication ceremony April 4. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

The cross of the chapel’s crucifix is made to look like a tree, with two trunks under the altar representing the 10 tribes of Israel and the two tribes of Judah. As it continues up, surrounding the tabernacle, the Israel trunk is dead, but “this dead limb of Israel that’s broken off becomes a crossbeam for the Tree of Life,” said Fr. Kleczewski. From the limb is a single leaf sprouting to life representing the Gentiles. The Judah branch continues and bears 12 leaves, representing the Apostles, and three golden apples at the top that represent the Holy Trinity.

The eyes of the Christus are open and look at the viewer. “This was meant to be an encounter with Christ, and the face was meant to be a face of great love,” said Fr. Kleczewski.

“People needed to see into the eyes of the Living Christ as He was dying on the cross, but not with agony and pain,” said artist James Muir. “So, the eyes had to be open, and they had to be looking in an identifiable place. They couldn’t be looking off.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, standing in Sedona’s Red Rocks, preaches the homily at the dedication ceremony for the Christus at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona during April 4. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted joins pastor Fr. Kieran Kleczewski (left) and James Muir (right), the artist for the new Christus at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona after the dedication ceremony April 4. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Alfred Carter, who just moved to the Phoenix area nearly three months ago, took family members visiting from New Orleans to Sedona, not knowing the dedication was scheduled.

“It was kind of a divine stumble up,” Carter said. “It’s a beautiful work of art, it really captures the fall and the redemption coming from the same tree.”

Sharon Brinker from Granger, Indiana, also stumbled upon the dedication ceremony. She and her husband visit Sedona every April for their anniversary month and always make a point to visit the chapel. When she saw it was closed before the ceremony, “my heart sank,” but then learning there would be a ceremony and being able to participate made it a “blessing in disguise.”

“I think redemption is exactly how we need to look at the ups and downs of life. It’s a perfect way to answer the evil you see in the newspaper and the evil you read about constantly,” Brinker said. “I love reinforcing this message of redemption in our world … and it’s shown through Christ on the cross. It means so much to me, especially during this very holy season of Easter.”