Cross maker gets another surprise


An article Saturday incorrectly characterized the financial relationship between Catholic Relief Services and sculptor Timothy Blum and his associates, who were to have built a 33-foot cross for Pope John Paul II's visit to Baltimore. In fact, CRS and Mr. Blum have not yet reached an agreement.

The Sun regrets the error.

Tim Blum knew he would learn a lot about Catholics while working on a 33-foot-tall cross that was supposed to grace the papal Mass at Camden Yards next month.

But he didn't expect to find out that he was one.

Raised as a Pentecostal and nondenominational Christian, Mr. Blum never knew that he and his twin sister had been baptized as Catholics when they were infants. His family told him after learning that he had been commissioned to build the huge cross for Pope John Paul II's canceled visit to Baltimore.

"My mother showed me the certificate," said Mr. Blum, a 27-year-old local sculptor who had worked since July to build a 2,100-pound steel and wood cross. "According to Catholics, I'm Catholic . . . and then I'm not only going to meet the pope, but I'm making the biggest thing that's going to be there and the pope's going to bless it. I got to thinking: Maybe I ought to go to confession."

When the Vatican canceled the pope's visit because of health problems, Mr. Blum got a wake-up call Thursday telling him to stop everything. But because of his three-month immersion in Roman Catholicism -- during which he asked everybody he met: "Are you Catholic?" -- he's still thinking of going to confession.

"When you go to the Maryland Institute, you rack up a lot of sins," he said. For now, he's sorry to have missed a chance to enhance his career by sculpting a work for a man he calls "the closest guy to God in the world."

"It would have been majestic," said Mr. Blum, an institute graduate who studied in Germany this year with British sculptor Tony Cragg.

Commissioned by Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, the cross was designed to be 33 feet tall and 20 feet wide and made of steel and paneled with red oak. The corners were to be gilded with gold leaf, its center inlaid with red stained glass, and the center beam draped with gold cloth.

Each of the dozen artisans involved were told to submit their Social Security numbers to the Secret Service. The Maryland Stadium Authority was going nuts over potential damage to the Oriole Park playing field and a helicopter was hired to lower the cross into the stadium.

The biggest worry was that it would topple during the Oct. 23 ceremony.

"To make sure this thing wouldn't fall over on the pope, it had to be rated [safe] for 71 mph winds," said Mr. Blum, who enlisted Eugene Gregorio's Exhibit Fabrication Designs to help. "The base was going to be 8 feet by 8 feet with 2 square feet of sandbags. We spread the weight out to equal the weight of an average person standing on the field."

When the cancellation call came Thursday morning, hundreds of planning hours already had been invested.

Part of Mr. Blum's research was spending hours in the Humanities Department of Enoch Pratt Free Library "burning images in my mind" of the cross; reading papal history; and watching Martin Scorcese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" over and over again on video.

The steel was scheduled to be welded into shape next week.

He said he reached an "amicable agreement" with Catholic Relief for payment on work done so far. He refused to say what he charged while ruing the loss "of a big payday for the best client in the world -- the pope."

And he vowed to pursue the secret faith of his infancy.

"When you talk about nothing but Catholicism for four months, it rubs off on you," he said. "I could use some reconciliation."

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