Other options for backyard Jesus statue?

| April 13, 2011 | 1 Comment

A 7-foot-tall marble statue is the centerpiece of a prayer garden in the backyard of Tuan Phan’s home on the west side of St. Paul. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Jesus became front-page news in the Twin Cities again. Well, at least his statue did.

You’ve likely read or heard about the 7-foot-tall statue of Jesus that Tuan Pham had erected in his backyard. The replica of the statue of Christ of Vung Tau in Pham’s native Vietnam became news when first the St. Paul City Council refused to allow a variance to zoning laws, then vandals tried to damage the statue by starting a fire around it.

Rules for the Mississippi River corridor state that a material change in the land use must be 40 feet back from the bluff; the statue, which was 10 feet from the bluff, was deemed to not comply. The St. Paul City Council refused to undo the ruling of the St. Paul Zoning Board of Appeals that the statue was too close to the edge of the bluff.

So, here are some thoughts:

First, don’t you have to admire the faith of Mr. Pham? What devotion he must have to our Savior to express that faith in what surely was an expensive endeavor.

The faith of this former refugee calls to mind efforts of earlier Catholic immigrant groups who have shared with us their devotion to, for example, Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (Italy) and Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland).

Second, it is too easy to paint the St. Paul City Council members the bad guys, and it would be unfair to judge their decision as anti-Catholic or anti-religious. Certainly a variance to the zoning law was possible. Civil authorities make variances for all sorts of good reasons, and one can’t imagine the footprint of Mr. Pham’s statue would damage the river corridor to any great extent. But where do you stop once you allow a variance? One just wishes Mr. Pham had known about the setback rule.

Third, the vandalism the Phams experienced is yet another sign that prejudice lingers in our community. And that leads to a final thought.

Mr. Pham may not want to move the statue, but wouldn’t it be interesting if more people could see it and be reminded of Jesus’ teachings — like love your neighbor?

If you were in charge of relocating the statue, where in the Twin Cities would you think would be a good site? E-mail us at catholicspirit@archspm.org, or send a note to us at 244 Dayton Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

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Category: Editorials