In the heart of Zimbabwe, local artists of the Shona Tribe sculpt images of the Holy Family carved into stone, some of which are currently on display at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington through the end of July. 

The African sacred art exhibit features seven sculptures of the Holy Family and the Madonna and Child carved from springstone, a type of serpentine stone often found in Zimbabwe. Each work embodies the artist’s understanding of the Holy Family -- Joseph’s care of Jesus and Mary, and Mary’s love for her child. 

The exhibit includes the sculpture, “Holy Family” sculpted in black serpentine stone by artist Bernard T. Sakarombe of Zimbabwe. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

“People really appreciate looking at the faces and the expressions,” Ken Balbuena, director of pilgrimage and visitor services at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, said in an interview with the Catholic Standard. “Many notice that they have their eyes closed. I tell them to think about holding their own child...overcome with love.”

The sculptors, Eddy Nyagweta, Washington Msonza, Bernard Sakarombe and Vernon Nyagweta, combine different textures of rock, carving and polish to illustrate the emotion between the Holy Family. 

The sculpture “Holy Family Relief,” was done by artist Eddy Nyagweta in black serpentine stone. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada) 

“They each have their own interpretation of what Jesus and Mary are thinking while holding Jesus,” Balbuena said. 

He noted that one of the difficulties of using springstone is that the sculptor cannot see the inside when starting to carve. 

“You don’t always know what the stone will be like on the inside until you actually start carving,” Balbuena said. 

The collection was commissioned by Hans Deitrich Huebert in Germany, and now currently belongs to the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut. Some of the pieces were part of the “Christmas in Africa” exhibit displayed at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in December 2012. 

Since the opening of the African sacred art exhibit now on display, more than 15,000 people have visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. 

“Holy Family,” a sculpture by artist Vernon Nyagweta in green serpentine stone, is also part of the African sacred art exhibit at the shrine. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada) 

The selection of carvings bring to life Saint John Paul II’s message of the unity of the domestic family. 

“Saint John Paul II preached a message of unity,” Dr. Maxine Nogier, the shrine’s deputy director, said in a statement. “During his 1988 pastoral visit to Zimbabwe, Saint John Paul II said, ‘Our faith in Christ opens our eyes to see beyond our own parish community, to the life of the universal Church and the needs of the world around us’...This temporary exhibit highlights the beautiful diversity of the universal Church.”

“Madonna and Baby Jesus” by Washington Msonza, black serpentine stone. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

To extend the year-long commemoration of the 40th anniversary since the election of Saint John Paul II, the shrine will host Domestic Church Day, a half-day retreat for couples and families, on July 27. The exhibit will be open for visitors during the event and until the end of July. 

(The Saint John Paul II National Shrine is located at 3900 Harewood Road, N.E., in Washington, D.C. For more information about the shrine and its programs, call (202) 635-5400 or visit jp2shrine.org .