John Malveaux of
Oct. 20, 2001 article LA Times A SACRED SYMBOL ARRIVES The faithful carry an image of the Black Christ into church
Nearly 75 people, carrying candles and flags and singing "hallelujah," marched slowly down Florence Avenue in South Los Angeles on Sunday morning to deliver a 300-pound wooden statue of el Cristo Negro, or the Black Christ, to a nearby church.
The religious symbol, a dark-skinned, intricately carved depiction of Jesus, is a reproduction of a 16th century bronze sculpture. Thousands of Roman Catholics from throughout Central America and southern Mexico make a pilgrimage each year to see the original statue, located in the Guatemalan village of Esquipulas.
"We believe in him because he provides miracles," said Dolores Juarez, 23. "He helps people. If you have cancer, or a broken leg, or someone in your family who is sick, you pray to him and he will make things better."
The legend of el Cristo Negro dates back to the late 1500s, when a Portuguese sculptor created the figure of a black Jesus as a statement against slavery and discrimination. It was adopted by indigenous people of Central America and Mexico as a symbol closer to their own image.
The $4,000 reproduction, which was paid for through donations and fund-raisers, arrived in Los Angeles from Guatemala last month. A local family arranged to have it sculpted, painted and shipped, so that community members in Southern California could share the religious tradition with their families, children and neighbors. The ebony statue, mounted on a giant wooden cross, will remain inside St. Raphael Catholic Church at 70th Street and Vermont Avenue.
On Sunday, Father Vicente Lopez of St. Raphael led the mile-long procession, which headed east on Florence Avenue and then toward the church. He walked slowly, using a wooden cane, as followers carried the flags of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, El Salvador and America.
Some women wore multicolored woven gowns or white lace veils. Others wore straw hats with miniature baskets hanging from the rims. Children carried white and purple carnations. Little girls had ribbons braided into their hair, and some carried dolls on their backs.
"Our presence is one of peace," said Lopez, who added that the parade was also an effort to show unity within the multicultural community of South Los Angeles.
The Black Christ has been an object of deep devotion for hundreds of years by Guatemalans, but it also speaks to black Catholics. St. Raphael, like a growing number of urban churches, is finding itself with congregations composed of blacks and Latinos. Lopez said he hoped that the sculpture would help bring the two groups together.