KARACHI: After being restored to its former glory, the magnificent Christ the King monument at the entrance of the St Patrick’s Cathedral and visible even from the far end of Shahrah-i-Iraq, has and will continue to bless the people of Karachi for many more years to come.
The 82-year-old monument was blessed on Sunday, which being the last Sunday of November also happened to be the Feast of Christ the King and the closing of the Year of Faith. Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, Apostolic Nuncio to Pakistan, blessed the monument after completion of major restoration work.
The Vatican envoy said, “I pray for each of you, especially those who supported you in the renovation work of the monument to Christ the King and for their families, as well as the elderly people and the children and young people of the Archdiocese.
May this jubilee deepen your faith in God’s unconditional and caring love for you and every person. And may it strengthen your hope amid difficulties and renew your commitment to love your neighbours as yourself in active charity and witness to the truth in this beloved land of Pakistan.”
The idea of a monument was conceived in 1927 by the Apostleship of Prayer during the Papacy of Pope Pius XI as a manifestation of the love and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But it was Fr Vincent Gimenez SJ who became the moving spirit behind the construction plan which was completed in 1931 and blessed and consecrated to the City of Karachi by Monsignor Leo Kierkels CP on Oct 17, 1931.
It was designed by M.X. Andrade and the marble used in its construction was imported from Carrara mines in Italy. The monument includes a crypt under the central alter that can accommodate 100 persons and preserves the replica of the body of St Francis Xavier. When first built it cost Rs81,500.
Unfortunately the rising water table, weather conditions and lack of maintenance over the years contributed to the general wear and tear of the Christ the King monument, which developed cracks as the iron rods in the pillars rusted and swelled.
A meeting was called on Jan 30, 2012 and a steering committee of historians architects, engineers and conservationists was set up to undertake the restoration and preservation project. The NED University of Engineering and Technology’s department of architecture and planning was one of the main contributors in the repair work. Restored at a cost of Rs8.5 million, the monument was handed back to the Rector of the Cathedral.“The money for restoration by and large was met through donations of the local Catholic community including those settled abroad. The Sindh government also announced a grant of Rs10 million for this purpose,” shared Michael Ali, a media spokesman at the blessing of the monument. “The amount leftover is now being turned into an endowment fund the profits from which will be used for the maintenance of the monument,” he added.
A volunteer, Joaquim Alvares, was grateful to retired Maj Riaz Shahid Siddiqui whose security firm had been provided free security for every Sunday at the St Patrick’s Cathedral and all the other churches in the city since the Peshawar church bomb blast in September.
Meanwhile, the ceremony started with the smart St Patrick’s band playing “When the Saints Go Marching” followed by “We Stand for God”. Little boys and girls dressed in white led the procession towards the alter. They were the first communicants followed by the alter boys in white and red and the Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, Archbishop of Karachi, the Most Rev Joseph Coutts and the rest of the bishops, cardinals and priests. The bishops wore pink caps, the cardinals red. Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, meanwhile, wore a mitre and was also holding a shepherd’s staff to signify that he was the shepherd of his people.
The Most Rev Joseph Coutts said that the monument is a shining symbol of ideals that years ago made Karachi a city where people from all corners of the subcontinent lived peacefully together in harmony. “It is very significant that non-Christian professionals gave freely of their time and expertise to work together with Christians to save something beautiful from being ruined. It is the most beautiful example of how we can once again work together to restore and build not only stone structures, but also the harmony that once prevailed in this city.”
Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra declared the monument blessed as the Year of Faith also came to an end with the dimming and then switching off of the lights as pigeons and white balloons were freed into the air with the St Patrick’s choir singing the hymn “Balundion pe Khuda ki Azmat …” and the cathedral bells ringing. The communion ended with prayers for peace in Pakistan and a spectacular fireworks display.