JUÁREZ, MX — In an industrial-looking space located within an old neighborhood in Juárez, a giant, clay mold of the Pope’s friendly, smiling face was mounted upon a pivoting platform.
Juárez-based artist Pedro Francisco Rodriguez was busy at work; he was commissioned to create a large sculpture of Pope Francis in honor of his visit to the city on Wednesday.
Rodriguez, who utilized a lost-wax casting method for the project, anticipated that it would take him 90 days to complete with his eight-person team.
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As part of the project, he placed donation boxes around the city into which people could donate keys and other small tokens made out of bronze, which were to be melted and cast into the final sculpture.
Though the donations were likely to account for only a small portion of the more than 2,000 pounds of bronze needed for the project, Rodriguez said they were more of a symbolic gesture.
“We want to involve the people of Juárez and let them be part of it,” he said.
A well-established sculptor, Rodriguez has erected 100-feet-tall sculptures in and around Juárez. “But the significance of this is much more important,” he said. “He is the most important religious leader in the world.”
Of being commissioned to the project, he said, “It surpasses all my expectations as a sculptor.”
Though Rodriguez spent most of his life in Juárez, a city to which he is extremely emotionally attached, he left to Miami amidst the worst part of the violence three years ago and did not return again until recently.
“I found a city that is waking up,” he said of his return.
Rodriguez added that the pope’s visit would be a significant one for the city. “It’s definitely going to put Juárez on the map, make it relevant, and it’s going to shake up the authorities — federal, municipal and state — into paying attention to Juárez and to strengthening their efforts into bettering the city,” he said.
Rodríguez explained that he is sculpting the pope's hands in movement, the way his hands would be when he releases doves, or balloons. The sculptor said that what came through about the pope after thoroughly studying him is his kindness, which he hopes the status imparts to the residents of Juárez.
Sasha von Oldershausen is an Iranian-American writer and reporter based in West Texas. Follow her on Twitter @sashavono.
John Brecher is a multimedia reporter at NBCNews.com, responsible for shooting and editing stills and video. Brecher joined NBCNews.com in 2006 after covering Hurricane Katrina and the 2002 Olympic torch relay as a freelancer for msnbc.com. Before that, Brecher worked as chief photographer at the Jackson Hole News in Wyoming and as a photographer for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.