By Father Stephen Perzan
Powerful, striking and beautiful are just some of the words that onlookers use to describe Sister Sophie’s artistic display “Garden of Gethsemane.” Linger for a moment and you are immediately absorbed in prayer and immersed into the very suffering of Jesus. A few are moved to tears.
“When you look at it, it’s like the words of the Gospel hit you in the face,” Mercedes Pokorny said. “It has an amazing impact on you.” Another parishioner of St. Helena in Philadelphia, Theresa Trinh, said, “When I look at it I want to stay with Jesus all day. I don’t want Him to suffer all alone. I feel like I want to be with Him, but I can’t – I have to go to work, but I really don’t want to leave.”
Sister Sophie Yondura, S.S.J., parish services director at St. Helena’s for 12 years, came up with the idea of “a prayerful Lenten response to our Christmas manger.” Her idea has certainly caught on, touching the hearts of many parishioners who regularly kneel before its dramatic visualization.
She has received letters from parishioners telling her how much they have been moved by it. One parishioner, Jeanie Burke, wrote: “I stopped after Mass to see it. I was immediately touched by its authenticity and filled with a deep love for Jesus and His passion.”
While the scene is dominated by the Cross and Pieta a closer look reveals that you actually enter into the mind of Jesus as He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. Scenes from the past and the future are laid squarely before you: the bowl for the washing of the feet, the bread of the Last Supper, the three crosses on the hill of Calvary, Veronica’s veil.
It also serves as a reflection and teaching tool for both young and old who ask: “What are the dice for?” “Mommy, are those nails real? Is that the whip they hit Jesus with?”
Some shake their head as they pass by, others simply reach for the feet of Jesus. Some take a “prayer nail” from the basket beside the main scene to carry with them as they go on their way to work, school or home.
Because of Sister Sophie’s rendering and the faithful prayers of the parishioners of St. Helena, Jesus is never alone in the garden.
“The Garden” can be visited anytime before or after any of the Sunday or weekday Masses at St. Helena Church in Philadelphia.
Father Perzan is parochial vicar at St. Helena Parish in Philadelphia.