The face of Christ in the ‘Bible belt of New Baltimore’

Catholic artist hopes mural fosters ecumenism, cooperation between denominations

Zammit says his mural, “It is I,” reminds Christians of Jesus’ desire that his Church should be united in faith.

New Baltimore — Artist Pio Peter Zammit calls the blocks surrounding St. Mary Queen of Creation Parish the “buckle on the Bible belt of New Baltimore.”

In addition to the Catholic parish, Zammit says it’s God’s providence that there are four churches “within 150 feet apart” in the rural Macomb County town. So when the pastor of one of them, the Rev. Bill Myers of Bethel Temple, told Zammit his Pentecostal church was in need of a new mural of Jesus to replace a 75-year-old one that had been covered when the church was restructured, Zammit, a Catholic, jumped at the opportunity to be put to work for “ecumenical outreach and love.”

On July 7, the finished mural, a 14-by-14-foot painting of the risen Christ with arms outstretched and crucifixion wounds visible, was dedicated in a ceremony at Bethel Temple. Zammit calls the mural “It is I.”

“It’s all about love for our separated brothers and sisters,” said Zammit, who attends Immaculate Conception Parish in Ira Township as well as St. Mary Queen of Creation. “There is a message in this for the community: ‘Father, that they be one, just as You and I are one; that they be one in us’ — and ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”

Pio Peter Zammit works on a 14-by-14-foot painting of Jesus inside Bethel Temple, a Pentecostal church in New Baltimore. Zammit, a Catholic, said he agreed to do the mural as a sign of interfaith goodwill.

Zammit said he believes the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Christ by virtue of the authority given to St. Peter, but that “the Holy Spirit is trying hard to unite all Christian churches to be one bride of Christ, because he is coming for her soon.”

Fr. Nick Zukowski, pastor of St. Mary Queen of Creation, participated in the dedication of the mural, Zammit said, leading the congregation in prayer and blessing the mural with holy water from the Lourdes, France.

“Fr. Nick did a beautiful prayerful liturgy and blessing of the painting,” Zammit said. “He touched the hearts of all present.”

It wasn’t the first time Zammit has used his art to foster interfaith goodwill. In 1980, he painted a massive 30-by-30-foot portrait of Christ on the outside wall of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Detroit as a sign of unity with St. Gerard Parish, which merged in 2006 with Immaculate Heart of Mary to become Corpus Christi Parish on the city’s northwest side.

Zammit called the 7-foot-tall image of Jesus in Bethel Temple an icon. “I watched the Sacred Heart triple-panel icon that Archbishop Vigneron commissioned for the Sacred Heart Major Seminary chapel,” he said. “So icons surely are sacred art.”

He said the image of Jesus illustrates that the Word of God is for all His children. In his remarks during the dedication ceremony, Zammit said it was reminiscent of Jesus’ calm assurance to “be not afraid” as he walked on the water toward his disciples.

Zammit paints the detail in the face of Christ on his mural, “It is I,” which was dedicated at Bethel Temple on July 7 with the help of Fr. Nick Zukowski, pastor of St. Mary Queen of Creation Parish, New Baltimore.

“He comes now in this painting saying the same thing: ‘It is I,’ do not be afraid as he comes walking toward us on the clouds. He is smiling at each one of us, assuring us that he is our God coming to save us with his love now at Pentecost, his power in his word and sacraments, his gentleness in his utter forgiveness and divine mercy,” Zammit told the congregation.

And the mural isn’t the end of Zammit’s involvement with Bethel Temple. As part of a continuing ecumenical outreach mission, he said he is joining Myers in promoting the “Tell-A-Village” ministry Myers started to promote the Gospel in Indonesia. The idea, Zammit said, is to place televisions and DVD players in the town squares of poor villages in the predominantly Muslim country to broadcast a new Gospel reading every day, as well as daily Masses and EWTN programming.

Zammit said the two have sent letters to Mother Angelica of EWTN and to Pope Francis asking for help with the project. So far, he said, the ministry has placed televisions in nearly 350 villages, with a goal of reaching as many of the 68,000 villages with the message of Christ as they can.

Those interested in helping with the “Tell-A-Village” ministry may contact Myers at [email protected] or (586) 716-2203.