As churchgoers meander out of a morning Mass at Holy Cross Parish in early July, a few stop to glance across the gray slab of parking lot at a once-barren wall. They are checking in on a city in progress.
Inches from the wall, a man with a ponytail and flash of white in his black hair squats atop scaffolding. Surrounded by paintbrushes of all sizes, he dips bristles into a can of swirled paint.
With each dab and stroke, longtime parishioner Senen Angon is creating a mural of Jerusalem across the side of the Holy Cross School gym. The 55-by-25-foot art piece will serve as a backdrop for the North Portland parish’s annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross re-enactment, evangelize the neighborhood though beauty, and remind parishioners of the world-changing events that occurred two millennia ago within the ancient city.
“We want people to understand how important Holy Week is,” said Carmina Perez, Hispanic ministry coordinator at the parish. “This is why we are here — because Jesus gave his life for us out of love; that’s the heart of our faith.”
The mural comes from the heart and skilled hands of Angon, a native of Mexico who is creating the work for free. The parish covers the cost of materials.
“When I started to come to this parish, I started thinking about how much I would like to do something to give back to the community,” said Angon, 53, through a translator. “I think of my paintings as a vocation, and I’m happy to use the gifts God has given me to make a beautiful work.”
Angon, whose daughter attended the parish school, began painting as a 14-year-old in Mexico. Primarily self-taught, he makes a living as a painter and has created several murals in the St. Johns neighborhood. He’s also worked on art projects for the parish and school, including tableaus and backdrops for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Christmas.
“Senen is a man of deep prayer, and his art is an expression of his prayerfulness,” observed Father Mark Bachmeier, pastor of Holy Cross.
Last year, Angon painted Jerusalem on a large canvas for the living Stations of the Cross, one of the most important events each year for Holy Cross’ large Hispanic community; Hispanics make up a little more than 55 percent of the parish faithful, according to Father Bachmeier. Conducted in Spanish, the re-enactment is an elaborate production that takes up a large portion of the parking lot.
“After last year, we started thinking about the possibility of doing a permanent mural of the city,” Father Bachmeier said. “My hope is that it will enhance the religious awareness of the parish and the neighborhood.”
Perez thinks the massive artwork sends the message that the parish loves God but is not pushing its faith on nonbelievers. “And maybe someone will come ask more about it,” she said.
Some mornings, Perez arrives at the parish by 7:30, and Angon already is applying paint to cinder block. “He’ll leave for lunch and then be back painting until dinner,” said Perez. “He’s so generous with his talents.”
Working from composite paintings of ancient Jerusalem, Angon will take about eight weeks to complete the mural. A blessing and dedication is planned for Aug. 6 during the parish festival.
Perez, who also hails from Mexico, said when she first arrived at the parish years ago she didn’t feel fully accepted. “We live our faith differently than Anglos,” she said. But over time, she’s watched the parish and school communities not simply accept Hispanics but embrace them. The mural is an example of that.
Though the impetus for the painting was the Spanish-speaking Holy Week event, “everyone is excited about it,” said Perez. “We are starting to really build one single community. It’s amazing.”
Angon hopes his work will help all parishioners “enter into prayer and devotion more deeply.”
“That would make me very happy — if they were able to pray better because of the mural.”
Mural blessing and dedication
Fr. Mark Bachmeier, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in North Portland, will bless and dedicate the mural of Jerusalem at 5 p.m. during the Aug. 6 parish festival. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is open to the public.