Durban Catholic: Large Tattoo a Public Declaration of Faith
For a young Durban Catholic a large tattoo of a crucifix is a public declaration of his faith which was deepened by two encounters with Pope Francis. ILLA THOMPSON reports.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago famously told Roderigo to wear his “heart on his sleeve for crows to peck at”, metaphorically using his body to physically and publicly expose his truest and most intimate emotions.
In these days of the tattoo generation, our entire body becomes our canvas with which to visually proclaim affirmations, images and icons which are important to us.
A Visual Reminder of Christ
A young Durban Catholic, Liam Smithers, has supersized this concept and has the most magnificent enormous crucifix tattooed onto his back. With this, he publicly declares his faith and living with the visual reminder of Christ’s love for us, literally branded upon his back.
“I had it done some years ago after a great deal of praying and reflection,” Liam said.
“I wanted to acknowledge everything I have and be reminded that without the power of God I would be a lot less than I am today. I have a blessed life, and I am grateful that I know where I came from.”
His tattoo depicts a bold, detailed cross, with the words “God” and “Power” intersecting.
Liam is delighted that the Mini World Youth Day (MWYD) is coming to Durban this December. Through attending previous global World Youth Days (WYD) he has twice met the Pope: experiences which have changed his life profoundly.
He was at the WYD 2013 in Rio de Janeiro — a place with similar social divisions, poverty, corruption and crime challenges as those in South Africa.
In Rio, the organisers asked for volunteers to put their names forward, and Liam was happy to be chosen to represent the continent of Africa.
Pope asked: ‘Pray for me’
He had the phenomenal opportunity of having a one-on-one conversation with Pope Francis himself.
The Holy Father asked Liam about himself and presented him with a rosary. Just before the Rio trip, Liam had lost his special rosary which he had been given during his first holy Communion — so to receive a new one from the pope was particularly special.
“At the end of our encounter, the pope said, ‘Please pray for me. Don’t forget…’ I was enormously moved to be asked to pray for the pope. It meant a lot to me, the idea that my prayers were worthwhile and that I could pray for him,” Liam said.
“The suggestion that our prayers are just as important as his was probably one of the most defining moments in my adult life, and gave me a new perspective on my faith,” he said.
“I mean, I am a random person from Durban, but I was made to feel as though I can make a difference.”
His second encounter with Pope Francis was “quite by accident”.
Again the organisers needed a representative from the continent of Africa and, after an all-night vigil, Liam was at the right place at the right time to be selected. All the young people were blessed by the pope and all received a mini wooden statue of the great Brazilian icon, Christ the Redeemer.
Liam has presented his statue to the archdiocese of Durban, where it is displayed.
Theology in the pub
Liam is still very involved in youth structures and is part of the young Catholics’ initiative, Theology on Tap, where young people meet informally once a month, in a pub or restaurant, to talk about current faith issues in a contemporary, non-threatening, inclusive way.
“We are all on a different faith journey, and all face our challenges in different ways. Theology on Tap is one way in which we can accommodate young adults who respond to an informal platform,” Liam explained.
He urges young adults to come to Mini World Youth Day to experience the size and scope of the local Church.
“Many of us are stuck in our parishes and are used to being with 20 or so fellow young Catholics. Whereas attending the MWYD will give attendees the chance to meet thousands of young people and help us all to understand what it means to be Catholic, and how universal our Mass is.
“I think you can stagnate if you try and celebrate faith in isolation. Attending MWYD helps you to realise that you are not alone,” he said.
The Mini World Youth Day will take place in Durban from December 6-10. For more information contact Barbara Koorbanally at the archdiocese of Durban on 031 303 1417 or the Conference Company on 031 303 9852. (Both in office hours. Or see www.miniworldyouthday.co.za or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow MWYD: Facebook: Mini World Youth Day 2017 / Twitter: @MWYD_Durban / Instagram: mwyd_durban