Just before dawn on a clear crisp day in 2006 the 75- foot statue of Christ was brought to a standing position overlooking the Pacific south of Rosarito Beach. Artist and sculptor, Gregorio Ramirez and engineering personnel made the final preparations to raise the statue from the ground level to the top of the waiting cupola. Don Antonio Pequeño the benefactor gazed upon his creation. A few Mexican journalists were there to record this event and myself, then a reporter for the Gringo Gazette North.
Years earlier, I was caught by surprise as many motorists were, seeing a very large head of Jesus lying at the base of a hill. A team of artisans, metal workers, and skilled labor had been at work for several years into the construction could be seen from the road. Much of the work had to be done in pieces that would be assembled later on the top of the hill. The road to the top was not wide enough to accommodate the outstretched arms and torso. All the work was done with a fiberglass and resin process, much like building the hull of a boat. Each week a 50 gallon barrel of resin was used at the cost of $500. The resin was then brushed onto layer after layer of fiberglass cloth, until the “hull” of the statue was one-inch think. Don Antonio would never tell anyone what the total cost was. He said that wasn’t important to know, but it was learned that he funded the entire project himself and accepted no donations.
At the beginning of the 7 year project Don Antonio sought out Gregorio of Tijuana to take on the project. Gregorio had already created a statue of Christ a few centimeters shorter than the one with colored robes that Don Antonio wanted created. What was important was that this stature would have the “Sacred Heart” showing, which to Catholics represented both the physical heart of Jesus as well as an icon of love. This exposed heart represents the “wounded heart” of Jesus and his compassion for others in the face of personal pain.
Don Antonio was 75 years old and in ill health at the time he made this journey to see his dream come true. It was his vision to give something to the community. As the story goes, when he was little boy, he and his siblings had no father. They survived by taking care of one another. He did not have shoes until he was twelve. Every day they would go to church to pray for work to sustain the family. Little by little the prayers were answered and the family began to thriv in the earlier days of Rosarito. The Sacred Heart of Christ is the symbol of his deepest gratitude.
On that morning in 2006 at sunrise the tension ran high as everyone wondered whether the mammoth crane would be able to lift the immense sculpture before the winds began to blow as there was no way it would happen if the winds were too strong. The heavy cable hanging from the crane was attached to a thick hook anchored into the top of the head. Slowly with agonizing increments the statue stood upright. Hanging 60 feet above the ground was a breath taking sight. Gergorio was suspended by ropes and pulleys to put the last touches of paint to the robe of Don Antonio’s dream. On the ground the crew had to turn the statue to face the ocean before moving it forward. We noticed the first morning breeze begin to flutter the yellow caution tape and waited in a kind of suspended time.
At the precise moment a prayer ran through the crowd. Everything was still on the hilltop. The next movement would be the release to let it stand on its own. It was critical that everything was perfect. At the crucial moment the crane let go. A great sound like a jet engine reverberated through the sculpture as it settled into place. Amongst smiles, back slapping and hollers of “Felicidades!” Don Antonio was heard saying, “You don’t think this is just for me? This is for everyone!”He said, “it is the gift to the people, to all people, because Jesus is for everyone.” Don Antonio died shortly after he brought his dream to completion.
It was truly an auspice day when Rosarito received its first true monument, the tallest statue of its kind in the world. Today the Sacred Heart of Christ gives its blessing to all travelers who pass by. No matter what one’s faith might be, the pilgrimage to Don Antonio’s dream will reaffirm the spirit of reaching for our own dreams and seeing them through to completion.
All people are welcomed to visit at no charge. Enter from the free road, Km 44 at Villa de San Pedro. Take the first right, then left on San Antonio de Padua to San Marcos. Continue on the paved road to the top of the hill with the breathtaking view.
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com