Cardinal Stafford leads crucifix restoration in Rome

After receiving inspiration from an aged crucifix, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996 who now resides in Rome, commissioned it to be restored as a sign of compassion for Rome’s suffering poor and unemployed population.

Cardinal Stafford told CNA Jan. 9 the cross has been restored “out of a hermeneutics of compassion and to rediscover compassion, to help the poor rediscover the fact that there is a compassionate world (out) there.”

The restoration of the crucifix and the opening of the chapel in which it now sits for veneration are also a sign that “the Church can in some ways share that compassion with (the poor) by opening up this chapel in a way that was more accessible,” he said.

Originally from Baltimore, Cardinal Stafford is now retired, but previously served as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary. In Rome since 1997, the cardinal lives in an apartment that sits beside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of Rome’s oldest churches. He explained that since the church sits so close to his residence, he would often go inside to pray. It is there that he discovered a side chapel that contained a large, worn crucifix dating back to the 1300s.

The crucifix was accompanied in its chapel by an image of Our Lady of Sorrows, which art restorers estimate came from the school of renowned Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 1600s.

“When I first came I went to the chapel and prayed before the crucifix … but as I looked upon it, even in the very dark color that it had assumed through centuries, it did not have the appeal that I felt was obvious beneath the color of black,” the cardinal recalled.

It was the body of Christ on the crucifix that first caught the cardinal’s attention, which he said was “so expressive in its beauty.”

“I was deeply moved when I looked upon it; even in the darkness of the paint that had covered it, there was a beauty to the body that spoke of love that came through giving of himself for others, on behalf of us.”

Cardinal Stafford recalled how he began to think of the poor people outside the church, and felt an immense desire to draw closer to the image and to show others “this truth, this goodness, and this beauty of Christ that was portrayed in his suffering body.” He then spoke to the priest in charge of the basilica, Father Don Marco Gnavi, about raising the funds to have the crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Sorrows restored.

Begun in 2013, the restoration of the crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Sorrows took roughly a year. Cardinal Stafford pointed out how visits to the small chapel have increased since the artwork was restored, uncovering the eyes, wounds, blood and facial expressions of Christ which were previously masked by the buildup of dust over the centuries. Cardinal Stafford said he stops by frequently, and that whenever he does, he pauses to pray in front of the newly restored crucifix and the image of Christ’s sorrowful mother.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.