It took a little over two hours Thursday to move two and a half tons of marble in position in front of St. Louis Cathedral. The ever-present brass bands in Jackson Square played under cold, sunny skies and the crowd that gathered to see what was inside the large wooden crates cheered when the special birthday gift finally made it to its final destination.
It is a newly-commissioned marble statue of St. Pope John Paul II, which will be officially unveiled Sunday outside of the cathedral. The statue was designed to both commemorate the pope's 1987 visit to the city and honor New Orleans' 300th birthday.
It took a huge crane and a work crew to move the statue into place. The giant wooden crates carrying the 6-foot tall statue and 2-foot base were marked "Made in Italy" and "Fragile."
The workers were guided by the careful hand of noted Italian sculptor and part-time New Orleans resident Franco Alessandrini, who created the sculpture in his studio in Tuscany.
The statue was commissioned by the local American Italian Cultural Center as a gift to the city of New Orleans and the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the city's tricentennial and to commemorate the pope's visit to New Orleans in September 1987. St. Louis Cathedral was among the sites he visited, speaking to members of the clergy and religious orders.
"It's a great gift from all the Catholics and the Italian community, to the city. This is going to be a permanent thing, hopefully it'll inspire people, I just think it's a great gift to a great city," said Frank Maselli, president of the American Italian Cultural Center, which led the fundraising effort to raise more than $225,000 for the statue.
The six-foot tall, life-sized likeness of Pope John Paul II, which features two children at his feet, was blessed by Pope Francis at the Vatican last November.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond will officially unveil it and bless it after the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Louis Cathedral on Sunday.