An organization of business owners, tradesmen, and citizens of Waterbury, Connecticut have volunteered their time and talents to present a Christmas gift to their community: a 16-ton, 52-foot tall illuminated cross.
The cross, which was put into place on Friday, replaces a similar one that rose high above the Holy Land U.S.A. religious attraction, which closed in 1984, and served as a landmark to motorists on Interstate 84.
According to the Hartford Courant, construction crews have worked feverishly to complete assembling the pieces of the cross and move them into position on Pine Hill for Sunday’s 6:00 p.m. lighting ceremony.
After a Mass at the Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, located at the base of the hill on which the cross will stand, the community will gather to watch the lighting of 5,000 LED bulbs that will shine from within the cross.
All the materials to build the cross and the labor to erect it were donated by members of the community. Mayor Neil O’Leary said that the steel alone is worth more than $100,000.
O’Leary and a friend, Fritz Blasius, formed Holy Land Waterbury U.S.A., an LLC, earlier in the year in order to purchase the 17.7-acre Pine Hill property from a religious order of sisters, planning all along to replace the lighted cross that had always been identified with the city of Waterbury.
According to the Courant, Holy Land Waterbury U.S.A. purchased the land for $350,000. O’Leary said building and erecting the cross would have cost at least that much, and likely as much as $400,000.
The cross itself, which was donated by Pisani Steel Fabrication in Waterbury, is 57 feet high, including a 26 by 6 feet poured concrete base.
In order to install the cross, workers had to rebuild a road to allow the heavy equipment required up the hill. O’Leary said Tilcon donated 140 yards of processed stone and trucking services. In addition, 11 electricians worked full time this past week on the wiring alone.
“This has been a real collaboration of an unbelievable group of people coming together,” O’Leary said.
Local residents who donated money to purchase the land include an anonymous donor of $100,000.
Fundraisers were held, including one by the Muslim community in Waterbury, O’Leary said. The Holy Land organization is now selling bricks – on its website and Facebook pages – that will be used in the restoration, as well as Christmas tree ornaments that bear an image of the cross on the hill.
The Courant reports that the founder of Holy Land U.S.A. was John Baptist Greco, a devout Catholic who was a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes. The church, which was founded in 1899 and was the first of three Italian parishes in Waterbury, has 800 families. Greco, who died in 1986, reportedly worked tirelessly on Holy Land, which at one time drew 40,000 visitors per year.
Deacon Robert Wallin, the homilist for Sunday’s Mass, said that the cross is important to the city of Waterbury.
“It was always the spot when you were coming up [Interstate] 84 or [Route] 8, you knew you were home,” Wallin said.
He added that St. Joseph responded to the Holy Spirit “with generosity and faith,” like those who have donated time, money, materials, and labor to reinstate the lighted cross.
“They reacted out of charity and faith to restore the light in Waterbury,” Wallin said.