Easter, the holiest day in the Christian calendar, is celebrated by billions of people around the world. This year, religious services leading up to the holiday have focused attention and solemnity on the thousands dead and the millions fleeing Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, siege and war.
As a gesture of support, 50 volunteers at Our Lady of Grace parish in Encino created an Alfombra for the first time. They emulated the Latin American custom to create temporary “flower carpets” made from natural materials during Holy week, or what is known as Semana Santa.
In Antigua, Guatemala, where the tradition is most notable, the “faithful” travel great distances to see the intricate Alfombras that cover the streets throughout the city. Intricate scenes and designs, sometimes a half mile long, are created with vegetables, fruits, flowers and dyed sawdust.
Working as a team over two days, members of the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, parents from Our Lady of Grace School and students in the confirmation program created the devotional artwork in Encino.
“This year we decided to bring this Alfombra living carpet to not only welcome Holy Week after two years of pandemic, but also to send this message to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine,” said Father Marinello Saguin, pastor of Our Lady of Grace. “It accompanied our Lord’s Passion by making a statement of support to those who suffer war, hunger, fear and depression.”
“We wanted to send a message of peace and solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” said Karla Gómez the communications coordinator and Alfombra project manager at the valley parish.
“This message has already reached a Ukrainian who is hiding in basements and moving from town to town to keep his family and pets safe. I sent him our message and he has received it.”
Gómez added, “He’s had difficulty finding a way out of the country.”
Many fighting age men (18-60 years old) are banned from leaving Ukraine and are refused while trying to cross the border into other countries, which forces them to separate from their families.
The church community was pleased when the man in Kremenchuk, Ukraine replied to their message earlier this week. He expressed his thanks on behalf of his family.
In a text message he wrote:“What you do touches our hearts and gives us incredible support which we need at this moment. Your drawings are works of art. Your care and support give us power and confidence. This means a lot to us.”
“For us, it’s important to show what the church and Catholic organizations are doing to provide aid, consolation and beauty amid the suffering,” said Sergio Lopez of Catholic Relief Services.
“It was important for us as a community of faith to come together and unite in preparing this amazing artwork to bring solace and communicate our sentiment of support to those suffering the war,” said Rebecca Flores, a volunteer.
“We had six panels with different designs, each representing a scene from Holy Week. Our last panel showed Our Lady of Fatima in relation to the consecration Pope Francis did of Russia and Ukraine. We wanted to include her as a reminder of the promise she made to us in 1917 in Portugal: ‘In the end, my immaculate heart will triumph,’” Saguin described.
As is the tradition, a procession is held on the Alfombra and, under many feet, the colors of the artwork merge together and are swept away.
“This helps us to remember that the Lord defeated all suffering,” Saguin said. “This was the first time for our parish and our community to make a project like this. It surely was an amazing opportunity to bring the community together and send our message of support to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
“Our message with the Alfombra was: ‘the flowers of peace will bloom again in Ukraine,” the pastor said. “You’re not alone, a whole community is with you.”