- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - The spirit of Michelangelo’s “Pieta” sculpture is being felt this Easter weekend thousands of miles away from Vatican City - outside a Phoenix charity’s dining hall.

St. Vincent de Paul executive director Steve Zabilski said he expects more people than usual to sit before a replica of one of the Italian artist’s most famous works.

About 20 people gathered at one point on Good Friday in the 50-seat chapel, Zabilski said.

“What makes this so special is it’s not in a great big cathedral or an art museum but it’s at a place where the homeless, the downtrodden and the working poor frequent,” Zabilski said.

The statue has been a fixture at St. Vincent de Paul in downtown Phoenix since January 2013.

Zabilski said the sculpture depicting Mary holding the body of Christ moves visitors. People often go up to kiss or touch the statue as well as leave prayer books, flowers or coins on it. Zabilski recalled taking a tour group into the chapel and explaining the sculpture’s presence.

“One of the people (seated) turned to me and said, ‘Shhh,’” Zabilski said, laughing. “He was absolutely right.”

Jana Black, a 54-year-old woman who is trying to save enough money to get to Flagstaff, recognized the statue from seeing the original on TV. While many people at St. Vincent de Paul might never have heard of it, that doesn’t diminish their ability to appreciate it, Black said.

“It brings God’s creativity to Phoenix straight from the Vatican,” she said.

For Dalton Puckett, a 22-year-old welder from Orange, Texas, it is a reminder to have hope. Puckett has been living at a nearby homeless shelter for two days. On Good Friday, he kissed the hand of Jesus‘ sculpture and then touched Jesus‘ foot.

The statue stands for “hopes and dreams and that everything is possible. There is no bottom of the barrel you can’t make it out of … because he (Jesus) gave his life for us,” Puckett said.

Husband and wife David Newren and Claudia Hecht distribute the replicas through their company, Arte Divine. They have overseen the construction of a dozen replicas licensed by the Vatican Observatory Foundation.

According to Newren, each one is cast from a mold of the original.

The sculptures have typically been placed in churches or cathedrals. There is one in the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C. Newren said Fulton Brock, his friend and a former Maricopa County supervisor, suggested St. Vincent de Paul receive one. A replica was made and transported with the costs offset by private donations.

It was even blessed by Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Newren said.

Newren said he’s happy that people are enjoying the statue in a way they couldn’t at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

In 1972, the original sculpture was severely damaged by a hammer-wielding man who shouted he was Jesus Christ. Since then, millions of tourists have had to look at it through bulletproof glass.

“If you’re viewing the original, the original almost looks like a framed photograph because it’s so far away from that window,” Newren said. “Here, you can experience it in an important way.”


Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ttangAP

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