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3/24/2016 9:00:00 AM
LENTEN PROJECT
Unusual paper sculptures spur works of mercy at Voorheesville parish
"Feed the hungry," "clothe the naked" and "shelter the homeless."
"VISIT THE SICK" AND "RANSOM CAPTIVES.
Folded paper has been the medium for exploring the corporal works of mercy this Lent at St. Matthew's parish in Voorheesville.

Each week during Lent, parishioner Paul Steinkamp added a paper sculpture of his own creation to a display at the church, representing one of the corporal works of mercy.

The owner of Helderledge Nursery in Altamont, Mr. Stein-kamp also enjoys the art of paper folding -- akin to origami, but focused on larger sculptures -- in his spare time.

He thought of that when talking with Rev. Christopher DeGiovine, pastor of St. Matthew's, about how to visually represent the Year of Mercy at the church.

"Last year, he designed a desert scene" for the parish's Lenten display, Father DeGiovine told The Evangelist. Parishioners enjoyed the tableau of sand, small trinkets and plants that gradually came into bloom as Easter neared.

"It was quite a hit, especially among the kids," said the pastor.

This Lent, the Church's Year of Mercy sparked the idea of highlighting the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming captives and burying the dead.

Mr. Steinkamp created each paper sculpture in his home studio. To give the panels what he called an "international flavor," he added verbs in other languages that relate to taking action on the works of mercy.

For "feed the hungry," Mr. Steinkamp made curls of paper that represent ears of corn and printed the word "feed" next to them in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

"That panel refers to the famine in Ethiopia, in the horn of Africa," the artist stated. "The corn crop in Ethiopia is down 50 percent. These little farmers with three or four acres, they can't even borrow money for seed. There's no government to take care of these people."

The display wasn't just about reflection. Each week, along with prayer and reflections from parishioners who practice a particular work of mercy, a parish-wide service project was tied to that work.

For "clothe the naked," Mr. Steinkamp's sculpture featured a crumpled sheet of paper dotted with buttons that looked like a piece of antique cloth and the word "vestir" ("clothe," in the language of the high Andes Mountains). That week, parishioners collected socks for Schenectady's City Mission.

"We also displayed the corporal work more graphically in front of our ambo," said Andrea Freeman, pastoral associate for administration at St. Matthew's, referring to a basket of clothing and a simple "clothe the naked" sign.

Mr. Steinkamp admitted that his sculptures aren't for everyone. He estimated that half the parishioners found them very meaningful, while others didn't quite understand them.

Father DeGiovine agreed. Personally, he said, "I think it's become fascinating and really wonderful. I love it. I wait each week to see what's coming next."

The pastor has also seen "people respond very positively -- even those who say, 'What is that?'"

Mr. Steinkamp is passionate about the project. In speaking about the "shelter the homeless" panel, which features paper folded to look like housetops and the Italian word "rifugio" ("refuge"), the nursery owner said: "A home is a refuge. It's like a garden of our life."

Shelter is more than cover, he added; it's a place where people have the ability to do things as simple as bathing and brushing their teeth.

The "ransoming captives" panel shows the word "comfort" behind prison bars.

"I have a childhood friend who's been imprisoned for 41 years," Mr. Steinkamp told The Evangelist. "I see it as a total waste."

Whatever people think of the paper sculptures, they are provoking a reaction.

"The reaction I want is awareness," Mr. Steinkamp said. "What can we do about famine in Africa? I don't know, but [this is about] awareness and expanding Pope Francis' idea of mercy. You can do some little thing about it."

The sculptures will be at St. Matthew's through the Easter season, ending with Pentecost May 15. Father DeGiovine said visitors can see them from 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

After that, the pastor hopes they'll find a new home -- perhaps, for the rest of the Year of Mercy, at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Albany.





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