Capturing, reflecting light Cross for papal Mass bolted into place at Camden Yards


Fred Hiser stood out beyond second base at Camden Yards yesterday afternoon, holding his breath as nearly two years of his life's work dangled from a crane.

"Easy," whispered the Baltimore architect. "Easy, easy, easy."

And easy did it as workers lowered a 2.5-ton steel cross onto four 1-inch bolts anchored in deep center field. The cross, resplendent in two coats of gold metal-flake paint, rose 34 feet in the air next to a plywood altar under construction for tomorrow's Mass by Pope John Paul II.

Watching with Mr. Hiser as the cross was maneuvered into place was Demir Hamami, a designer on the project. "It's going to work," he said, assuring Mr. Hiser moments before the cross was bolted down. "You can see, it's getting there now."

At 12:43 p.m., it was there, and months of work by teams from a dozen different companies was nearly complete.

Still to be attached were 53 frosted acrylic panels to catch and radiate sunlight simultaneously. Later in the day, 13,000 pounds of bagged sand would be piled on the cross' square metal base, helping it withstand winds up to 75 mph.

The crew expected to be working until midnight.

"It was a challenge to do something spiritual that's out of the ordinary," said Mr. Hamami, who described himself as a spiritual man without religious affiliation. "We wanted it to live and breathe and be luminous without artificial light. When the sun hits this thing, we want it to gleam."

Said Mr. Hiser, a Catholic University graduate who studied architecture in Rome: "The cross is a study of capturing and reflecting light."

Hung over the structure's arms -- each 7 feet long and bolted onto the cross before it was raised yesterday -- will be 12 yards of gold-colored upholstery fabric.

Peter Wilkinson of Unique Metal Works fabricated the cross in a shop off Pulaski Highway and Erdman Avenue.

One of the few people involved in the project who did not donate his time and labor, Mr. Wilkinson broke his foot in a motorbike accident a few months before the cross was finished. Then he banged the same foot into the cross as deadline neared.

"The pope would not have liked to have heard what I said that day," he said.

Yesterday, the British-born Mr. Wilkinson -- who thinks the pope is "so cool" -- tightened nuts around high-strength bolts in the base after the cross was upright. "To us, this is just a general structural steel job," he said.

As he did, project managers from Baltimore's Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet architectural firm attended to the cross, carpenters from Harkins Builders sawed and hammered the 40-foot by 60-foot wood-and-metal platform that will serve as the altar.

Covered with sod and earth-colored matting, the altar was designed to look like a natural plateau rising out of the field. Chrysanthemums and other local flowers will line the edges of the 3-foot platform.

"Other cities have gotten too carried away with flowers at these things, and the altar wound up looking like a float at the Rose Bowl parade," Mr. Hiser said.

It took about six hours to put the altar together yesterday and is expected to take another six to disassemble.

"It's all pre-fabbed, hundreds of pieces fitting together," said James J. Brady, a carpentry foreman in upstate New York. "I won't be here for the Mass, but I'll be here to take it down when its over."

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