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An urban 'sanctuary'

The Baltimore Sun

Calling for a "sanctuary in a suffering city," Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien dedicated the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden in downtown Baltimore yesterday before unveiling a bronze statue of the late pontiff.

Speaking at Charles and Franklin streets, the archbishop said he hoped the new green space - the site of the demolished 100-year-old Rochambeau apartments - would become a symbol of the rebirth of "many, many more Baltimore street corners."

He described Baltimore as a city "where too many street corners are just places where drug deals take place and where gunfire inevitably follows."

Nearly 150 people, some of whom stood in an adjoining parking garage, watched as O'Brien and artist Joseph Sheppard lifted a white cloth from a bronze likeness of Pope John Paul II, who visited Baltimore in 1995 and spent part of an afternoon at the adjoining Basilica of the Assumption after celebrating Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The archbishop asked that the new corner garden, with its dogwood trees and roses, "reflect the love of God that was so evident on that October day in 1995."

Construction crews completed the fenced garden several weeks ago. The pope's statue, kept under a cover of boards, became the center of attention yesterday as it was unveiled and blessed.

The likeness shows the pope embracing two children and was based on a photo of his arrival at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in 1995.

The boy in the photo was 9-year-old Justin Farinelli, who is now 22. After residing in Pasadena, he moved to Gainesville, Fla.

Sheppard "took some liberties, but they are all appreciated," Farinelli said.

The artist, who was born in Owings Mills and spends much of his time in Pietrasanta, Italy, recalled a meeting with Pope John Paul II in Italy.

"I kissed his hand," Sheppard said. "He had an amazing charisma. I can't even remember if I spoke English or Italian to him. I was identified as a painter, and he embraced me warmly. He had a powerful presence."

Sheppard also said he had completed portraits of John Paul II and another of the current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, which will hang in the North American College in Vatican City.

"I came to honor Joe," said business executive and philanthropist Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., who stood in the crowd. He said he was a longtime friend of the artist.

Cardinal William H. Keeler gave the opening blessing and said, "May this garden be a living memorial to religious freedom." Also participating was William H. Borders, who formerly headed the Baltimore Archdiocese.

Soprano Beverly Williams sang "Ave Maria" to open the ceremonies and then closed them with "Amazing Grace."

Stephen Kelly of landscape architects Mahan Rykiel Associates, the firm that created the design for the elliptical garden, said that Sheppard's statue aptly caught the pope's "tenderness for children." He also pointed to a stone tablet engraved with the symbols of Judaism, Islam and Christianity to show the ecumenical beliefs of the pope.

"We tried very much to make it a garden, rather than a plaza or hardscape," said Scott Rykiel, the principal architect of the project. "We realized Pope John Paul II was an outdoorsman. He loved hiking in the mountains and skiing. He was a green pope."

Iron craftsman John Gutierrez pointed to the fencing, gates and benches he constructed for the garden at his studio in the Clipper Mill section of Woodberry.

The space for the garden was created after the Rochambeau apartments were demolished two years ago, a move that set local preservationists against the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Preservationists said the 1906 apartment house should have been retained, but court rulings sided with the archdiocese's plan to raze the structure.

online See video from the dedication at

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