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A Smiling Pope Francis Will 'Live' in Juarez Through This Sculpture

Pope Francis may be visiting Juárez, Mexico for one day, but an acclaimed sculptor's work will keep him in this city's gaze for generations to come.

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.

At his studio in Juarez, Sculptor Pedro Francisco Rodriguez shapes the clay model for a 12-foot-tall bronze sculpture he's creating of Pope Francis.John Brecher / NBC News

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.”

Pedro Francisco Rodriguez works on the sculpture's hands.John Brecher / NBC News

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.

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