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Life-size Stations of the Cross to be ‘tool for evangelization’ in Orlando

September 18, 2022 Catholic News Agency 4
A detail of Timothy P. Schmalz’s fourth station: Jesus meets his mother. / Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 18, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Catholic artist Timothy P. Schmalz sought to find and bring to life the most important subject matter an artist could ever express.

“I wanted to create a sculpture project that would be the heart of Christianity,” the Canadian sculptor said.

He settled on Christ’s crucifixion and death. 

His new creation, once finished, will be a life-size set of the 14 Stations of the Cross — scenes depicting Christ’s journey from being condemned to death to his burial — placed right next to Disney World. The faithful will be able to encounter the 12-foot tall, 11-feet wide sculptures at the Basilica of Our Lady Queen of the Universe, in Orlando, Florida.

“I hope to rival Universal Studios, Walt Disney, and every other feature in Orlando by creating what has never been done before, and that is one of the biggest, most complex Stations of the Cross,” Schmalz said.

Once completed, visitors will encounter the 12-foot tall, 11-feet wide sculptures at the Basilica of Our Lady Queen of the Universe, in Orlando, Florida. “It's right in the center of a place that desperately needs a spiritual Catholic oasis,” sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz says. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz
Once completed, visitors will encounter the 12-foot tall, 11-feet wide sculptures at the Basilica of Our Lady Queen of the Universe, in Orlando, Florida. “It’s right in the center of a place that desperately needs a spiritual Catholic oasis,” sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz says. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

Schmalz is not new to sculpting. The experienced artist’s work can be found worldwide, from St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican to Washington, D.C. He is perhaps best known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculpture and the “Angels Unaware” statue. 

His new Stations of the Cross, he hopes, will serve as a tool for evangelization and conversion for the roughly 50 million people that visit Disney each year. 

“It’s right in the center of a place that desperately needs a spiritual Catholic oasis,” he said, adding that bringing the Stations of the Cross to Orlando is “bringing the Gospels [to] where the people are, in a sense.”

The stations — which combine mural painting and sculpture — will offer visitors “visual doorways into a Catholic-Christian experience,” he said.

So far, he has completed the first four stations: Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus carries his cross, Jesus falls for the first time, and Jesus meets his mother.  

It will take another year, he says, before all 14 are done. On his YouTube channel, Schmalz walks viewers through the process of creating each station, from sketching them on paper to sculpting them in bronze.

Each scene, made of bronze, bursts with symbolism, movement, and emotion. The foreground shows Jesus’ passion. In the background, Schmalz plans to include every single parable found in the New Testament.

“When you see Jesus in the front, you’re going to see … a raw, hardcore scene from the passion,” he said. “But in the distance, you’re going to see the parables that he taught us. So it might be in the distance, you’ll see a camel trying to get through a little hole in the wall or the eye of the needle.”

While he works in his studio located in St. Jacobs, in Ontario, Canada, he listens to an audio recording of the New Testament, he said. 

“Things are pulled out and things describe themselves as I create,” he explained, comparing his role to a “passenger” or “director.”

The stations are getting funded by various donors, he said, as he works on them. As they progress from one to 14, each station will become “more and more intense.”

“The passion now has become my passion,” he said. 

He hopes that viewers will feel like they are a part of the stations.

“We know there’s a lot of kids going to Walt Disney in Orlando every year,” he said, giving one example. “I’m putting a lot of children within them so they can see themselves in the scene.”

The 53-year-old artist also sees himself in them.

“It’s fascinating because you really become a part of the subject matter as you’re working on it,” he said. “It evolves and it grows as you’re working on it, and it’s almost like it tells you what to do in a sense where I don’t necessarily know exactly how the piece will end up.”

He called the project mentally, spiritually, and physically taxing. He might dedicate one entire day to creating a little corner of one of the stations, he said, and another day just focusing on the face of Jesus.

But, he added, the work is worth it. These stations allow him, as an artist, to “get to the absolute essence of Christianity” in the hope that “it will be one of the greatest tools to convert and inspire Christianity.”

“I hope to rival Universal Studios, Walt Disney, and every other feature in Orlando by creating what has never been done before, and that is one of the biggest, most complex Stations of the Cross,” says Timothy P. Schmalz, shown here in his studio looking at the fourth station. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz
“I hope to rival Universal Studios, Walt Disney, and every other feature in Orlando by creating what has never been done before, and that is one of the biggest, most complex Stations of the Cross,” says Timothy P. Schmalz, shown here in his studio looking at the fourth station. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

“I want [people] to come back from Orlando and, sure, talk about the rides, talk about Mickey Mouse. But I want them to say that the most exciting and most interesting and most moving thing with their vacation was this Stations of the Cross project,” he said. “And if I can do that with this piece of artwork, I have succeeded.”

At a time when many people are attacking Christianity and Christian symbols, Schmalz’s response is to create new, stronger symbols. “Sculptures that are bold, sculptures that celebrate and glorify Christ, but also encourage people to walk through that doorway and see Christ in focus,” he said.

“As they try to make us invisible, we have to sharpen,” he concluded. “And me, as an artist, that is my job, to sharpen our identity with these symbols and art.”

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News Briefs

New graphic novels star Catholic exorcists battling demons for souls

March 20, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
Douglas Ernst’s “Soulfinder” series of graphic novels follows the adventures of combat vets-turned-exorcists. / ICONIC Comics

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 20, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Father Patrick Retter kept his wits about him as he faced the giant, red-eyed cobra slithering out of the possessed woman’s mouth. 

“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,” he chanted the Sign of the Cross in Latin, as he thrust a bottle of holy water at the demon.

The woman bit his hand with her teeth — emitting a loud crunch — but the priest kept going. Clutching his wooden cross, he declared, “I cast you and every satanic specter out — in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! It is he who commands you.”

So begins one of the many action-packed scenes in the “Soulfinder” graphic novel series about a fictional “special forces of exorcists” within the Catholic Church.

“‘Soulfinder’ is about a major order of combat veteran exorcists who are recruited to engage in spiritual warfare with a demon called Blackfire until the end of time,” Douglas Ernst, the writer and creator of the series told CNA.

The 42-year-old writer began the series to fill a void in today’s comic-book world — and in the culture.

“The heroes that I grew up reading are often unrecognizable because the creators at Marvel and DC are activists posing as serious storytellers,” he explained. “I created ‘Soulfinder’ because I wanted to give people solid stories and artwork that also imparts something good, true, and beautiful.”

Together with a team of artists — Timothy Lim, Brett R. Smith, Matthew Weldon, and Dave Dorman, to name a few — Ernst brings to life characters who dedicate themselves to serving God after serving their country. They apply their experience of fighting in the physical world to, now, battling in the spiritual realm. 

The series is already saving souls, both inside and outside of its pages. 

“I love it when someone writes me and says that reading the books brought them back to the Catholic Church after they drifted away,” Ernst revealed. “Perhaps they haven’t gone to Mass in years, but something in the stories rekindled the flame of faith.”

Stories of selfless service

A Catholic veteran himself, Ernst shares something in common with his protagonists. He served as a mechanized infantryman in the ‘90s, leaving before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He saw many of his friends go to war — and never return.

Ernst brings this background to his books, which follow the adventures of Retter (an Iraq/Afghanistan war veteran), Father Reginald Crane (a Vietnam veteran), and Detective Gregory Chua. 

“My hope is that I’ve done right by the military community,” he said. “Selfless service and the willingness to lay down one’s life for another is a crucial component of the series.” 

Ernst, who previously worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., now splits his time between Reno, Nevada, and Missoula, Montana, while focusing on his graphic novels.

His first two — “Soulfinder: Demon’s Match” and “Soulfinder: Black Tide” — greet readers with vivid colors and rich Catholic symbolism. The second book, available in hardcover, shimmers with gilded pages — and even a glow-in-the-dark monster. 

“Where are the Catholic creators who will attempt to pick up where G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien left off?” asks Douglas Ernst, the creator of the "Soulfinder" graphic novels. ICONIC Comics
“Where are the Catholic creators who will attempt to pick up where G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien left off?” asks Douglas Ernst, the creator of the “Soulfinder” graphic novels. ICONIC Comics

There is a dramatic reality at the core of these works of fiction. The series illustrates Catholic priests not only as courageous heroes but also as imperfect human beings — men who may fall, but always pick themselves back up, driven by a desire to do the right thing. Along the way, their personality (and sense of humor) shines through the narrative.

Available through ICONIC Comics, the first two volumes also appear on Amazon Kindle. In January, both made No. 1 on Amazon’s list of new releases in “Religious Graphic Novels.”

Inspired by Catholic writers

Ernst — who learned to read by devouring the adventures of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil, and Captain America as a boy — began his series after encountering mainstream comic books filled with moral relativism.

 “Where are the Catholic creators who will attempt to pick up where G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien left off?” he asked. “That’s a tall task, but the culture will continue to drift into dangerous waters if Catholic writers and artists do not enter as many creative places as possible.”  

 Ernst shared what he did to prepare for the books, to ensure that they were theologically sound.

Being a “cradle Catholic” helped, he admitted, in addition to consulting with other Catholics, including a priest. His stories, he said, have been inspired by the works of St. Francis de Sales, Father Gabriele Amorth, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, and others.

 Ernst began the series after organizing a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign. He also credits his success to working with talented artists and to Word on Fire, Bishop Robert Barron’s media ministry, which has featured his work in blog and YouTube interviews.

A ‘PG-13’ advisory

 Teenagers and adults seeking classic storytelling with “good vs. evil” seem to enjoy Soulfinder, Ernst said of his series, which he rates as “PG-13.” This is because, among other things, the series addresses a dark subject matter. 

 In his first book with artist Timothy Lim, also a practicing Catholic, a black mass scene involves a naked woman.

 “She is nude, but there’s shadows where there needs to be shadows,” Ernst pointed out the strategic shading over her body. “It’s also shown as a bad thing.”

 While the series is for more mature readers, it offers content for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

 “Most Catholic characters in modern comics and in Hollywood tend to be cartoonish version of the Faith,” he said. 

His series, he emphasized, is different.

 “It makes me incredibly happy when readers who are not Catholic say that these stories show a side of our faith that they have never encountered before.”

 Third book on the way

 Ernst told CNA the third installment of the series is in production.

 “‘Soulfinder: Infinite Ascent’ takes our heroes to the other side of the world to apprehend a rogue member of the CIA who has evaded capture through supernatural means,” Ernst told CNA. “The U.S. government was so impressed with Father Retter and his friends regarding their success in ‘Soulfinder: Black Tide’ that it returns to them once again to clean up a global network of occultists.” 

 While there is no official release date yet, Ernst expects the book to be colored and lettered in March. From there, it will be sent to the printer. 

 “The story, at its core, focuses on the loss of loved ones, grief, and the need for forgiveness,” Ernst hinted. “The key to saving the day hinges on one character’s ability to forgive others for their trespasses against him.”

 The volume will include a bonus story, “Soulfinder: War Cry, which takes place at Arlington Cemetery.

 In the end, Ernst hopes that these books will bring him, and his readers, closer to heaven.

 “I know that one day I will stand before my Creator and I’ll have to give an account of what I’ve done with the talents I’ve been given,” he said. “I hope that my creative team has done its small part in saving souls while simultaneously entertaining readers.”

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News Briefs

Local artists add beauty to Los Angeles exhibit ‘250 Years of Mission’ to celebrate Jubilee Year

September 20, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Lalo Garcia’s painting of Saint Junípero Serra is featured in the ‘250 Years of Mission’ exhibit. / Lalo Garcia.

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 20, 2021 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

On September 11, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles began a Jubilee Year, Forward in Mission, to mark 250 years since the opening of the region’s first church, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, founded in 1771 by Saint Junípero Serra. An exhibit titled 250 Years of Mission will be on display at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels through Sept. 10, 2022, to tell the story of the Catholic faith in the region.   

“The Church has left such an indelible mark on our culture here from street names, the city names, and everything in between, to our radical charity in the community,” said Father Parker Sandoval, Vice Chancellor for Ministerial Services for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “We thought it was very important to put forward to everyone for free, in an accessible space, a display of beauty and an opportunity to learn the richness of our history.” 

Local artists Aurelio G. D. Mendoza, Lalo Garcia, and John Nava are featured in the exhibit, which spans four galleries inside the cathedral. The galleries include historical documents and artifacts; colonial art from Spain and Mexico; Native American religious art; and the contributions of Mendoza, Garcia, and Nava. 

“Historically, here in Southern California, the missions are extremely important, not only as a tourist attraction, but as the seed of Catholicism,” said Garcia, whose oil painting of Saint Junípero Serra is in the exhibit. “I hope that you get a feel of Southern California, who we are, the buildings that we have here in the Camino Real, feel proud of the heritage as Californianos, and see the good things that he [St. Junípero Serra] did.” 

Garcia’s painting, which was commissioned by Archbishop José Gomez in honor of the canonization of Saint Junípero Serra in 2015, measures 30-by-40-inches and has a halo made of 24-karat gold leaf. He hopes his works become an “instrument for historians, priests, seminarians, teachers, anybody who acquires the piece, so that they can actually talk about it,” he said.

“I spend a lot of time reading, meditating, and thinking about the piece that I am going to create,” said Garcia, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 13 years old. “It gives me more responsibility to create this type of art when I have seen people praying in front of an image that I have painted. I want the piece to be worthy of the space it’s going to take.” 

Two large oil paintings by Aurelio G. D. Mendoza (1901-1996) are also included in the exhibit. The two pieces are part of a trilogy called El Camino Real, which aim to depict both conversion of the Indigenous people and the construction of missions in California. In the first piece, which measures six-feet tall by five-feet wide, Mendoza painted Saint Junípero Serra pointing ahead, “signaling the way to follow,” said his granddaughter Lucy Mendoza. 

Mendoza’s second painting in the exhibit, titled Mision San Diego de Alcala, is five feet tall by eight-and-a-half feet wide. It shows Saint Junípero Serra with Father Sanchez, the architect of the San Diego mission, among both the Indigenous people and the Spanish soldiers.

“He took great care in making sure the Indigenous were portrayed with such beauty and grace,” said Lucy Mendoza.

Both pieces were completed in approximately 1976, when Mendoza was 75 years old. 

“You want people to feel a sense of pride in the history of California—and I know there’s been some pain, there’s been some controversy—but I also feel that there’s so much good also,” said Lucy Mendoza. “My abuelito always said that so much can be learned through art.” 

The scale of Mendoza’s pieces, Father Sandoval said, are in themselves impactful. 

“They’re huge, they literally fill walls, and the images just pop,” he said. “Then, knowing that these were painted by people who have a devotion to the saints they are depicting makes them particularly beautiful.”

John Nava, the third local artist included in the exhibit, wove the tapestry for the Mass of Canonization of Saint Junípero Serra in 2015 in Washington, D.C.. Nava’s tapestry is on display in the same chapel as the other artists’ works. 

“It’s not simply that they’re great artists, but fundamentally they’re people of faith,” said Father Sandoval. “That really comes through in the artwork.”

In addition to the local artists, 250 Years of Mission includes religious objects and art from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, which fell victim to arson in July 2020, as well as materials from the archdiocesan archives. 

The exhibit aims to be both educational and beautiful, said Father Sandoval. 

“We live in a time where we are bombarded by bad news and ugliness on the newsfeed, on the front page, and on the screen,” said Father Sandoval. “That’s why we thought it was really important to accent the beauty of our faith and the history of the church and our mission here.” 

The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since the galleries line the sides of the cathedral, the exhibit is open anytime the cathedral is open to the public. 

“We hope that people not only enjoy the beauty and learn the history, but, above all, feel inspired to build on the legacy of faith that started here 250 years ago,” said Father Sandoval. “This is a summons to revival, to renewal, to refocus on what matters most, which is putting people in contact with Jesus.” 

“We hope we can bring as many people—especially young people—as possible to visit and feel moved to move into mission,” he said. 


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