The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim Liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;… Isaiah 61:1 NRSV El Espíritu del Señor omnipotente está sobre mí, por cuanto me ha ungido para anunciar buenas nuevas a los pobres. Me ha enviado a sanar los corazones heridos, a proclamar liberación a los cautivos y libertad a los prisioneros,…Isaías 61:1 NVI

by Dome vol. 54 Number 10. December 2003

Here in a hospital famed for modern medicine, a 10-and-a-half-foot marble statue  of Jesus rises beneath its historic dome. Elsewhere, such a prominently featured  religious symbol might be cause for controversy. But at Hopkins Hospital,  “Christus Consolator” has managed to defy its traditional symbolism and garner  respect from nearly all who pass.

Long a source of solace and hope for  patients and families, the Christ statue also has meaning for hundreds of  employees. For many it signifies healing, hope and compassion; for others, it  means faith and tradition and even freedom. To a few, it is simply a work of  art, or even a throw-back to a less tolerant time. Muslims, Jews, Christians,  atheists-all interpret the statue in ways that feel right for  them.

Claudia Costabile, an administrative assistant for Johns Hopkins  International, moved here from Brazil last year. The statue doesn’t seem out of  place to her, she admits, perhaps because she was raised in a Catholic country.  “I cannot separate the sculpture from my upbringing. When I look at it, I  immediately think of my family.” In Islam, says International client coordinator  Omar Zidi, while Jesus has a very special place as a messenger, a key principal  is to keep God in the abstract and eschew images of God or the prophets. But, he  says, “It’s hard to satisfy everybody. So for me, the statue serves as a  reminder of my own faith.”

Some like Adrian Dobs, professor of medicine  and a practicing Jew, are less accepting of the statue. “I see how the statue  means a great deal to our patients and their families. It engenders a sense of  hope and comfort to many-something extremely important in the field of  medicine,” Dobs says. “But if it weren’t already there, I wouldn’t be in favor  of erecting it again. It has an obvious religious significance, and in today’s  world, we need to be careful about imposing religious beliefs on  others.”

That’s not an issue for Mikyong Hong, a patient services  coordinator and interpreter for international services. Hong, who came to  Hopkins a month ago from Korea, is an atheist but says the statue doesn’t bother  her. She points out that many religious Asians-many of whom are Buddhist-could  be uncomfortable with the size and meaning of the statue and would avoid passing  it. When Hong arrived at Hopkins, someone told her it was good luck to rub the  statue’s toe. “Now it’s a habit,” she says. “Every time I pass, I rub  it.”

Stop for a while and watch the people hurrying past the Christ  statue. Not one five-minute period goes by without someone acknowledging it.  Like Hong, they might rub the toe. Or, they might say a brief prayer. Some kneel  in front of it. A few even high-five it. “Every time I walk by I have to touch  it,” says Norma Green, a transplant finance coordinator who has been at Hopkins  for 37 years. “I leave all my problems there so I don’t bring them to the  patients..”

Founder Johns Hopkins was an ardent Quaker devoted to the  establishment of a non-sectarian university, hospital and medical school. To  Hopkins, “non-sectarian” meant acknowledging the power of personal faith without  aligning his institutions with one particular religion. In 19th century  parochial Baltimore, such a philosophy was considered heretical.

So when  the University was dedicated in 1876 without so much as a benediction, many  Baltimoreans considered it blasphemous. For years the rich and religious hounded  the University’s first president Daniel Gilman about the oversight. Finally, on  Oct. 14, 1896, Gilman quelled the controversy with the stunning statue that  stands at what was then the physical epicenter of the hospital, its ornate  rotunda. He downplayed Jesus’ religious implications; to him the statue  represented the ultimate physician, the “Great Healer,” who “wrought,” he said,  “more wonderful cures than any physician or surgeon that had ever  lived.”

Today, many share Gilman’s take on the statue as a symbol of  healing. Kate Hicks, raised Catholic, now not religious, says that when she  joined Hopkins as a research data assistant in the Department of Psychiatry she  heard the statue was a Greek medical figure. “I still think it’s a beautiful  work of art even though now I know it’s Jesus, but I’d get more out of it if it  were something different-maybe a human assisting another human. Something more  about helping or healing than a religious figure.”

For people like Nadia  Sawaya, the statue represents much more. Sawaya lived through civil war in her  native Lebanon, witnessing burning churches and other acts of violence fueled by  religious differences. Today she is a project manager for external  communications for Johns Hopkins International. “When I see the statue standing  there without being torn down, it feels like freedom to me,” she says. “It  reminds me that in this country you can be proud of your faith, that you will be  respected as a human being and a citizen no matter what you  believe.”

Cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins, a longtime civil rights activist,  has brought everyone from Rosa Parks to Maya Angelou to see the statue. For him,  it’s not just a symbol of compassion and healing, but activism. “Jesus talked  about feeding the poor, like some sort of ancient welfare system,” he says. “The  statue should remind us of our charitable mission here.”

Situated in the  historic Billings Administration Building, the iconic landmark is a stopping-off  point for sight-seers, a starting point for Christmas carolers, and a gathering  place for employees meeting for lunch. Although people from so many cultures  pass through daily, very few official complaints about the statue have been  recorded. No one would know better than Sandy Johnson, the employee orientation  program coordinator for the Hospital and Health System who conducts weekly tours  that always end at the statue. “I’ve been doing this seven years and I’ve never  had a negative response from anyone. I’ve had everyone from Muslim to Baha’i in  my tour groups. I think people just respect it as a symbol of faith, period.”

For more than a century, the statue has left an indelible first  impression on both patients and staff. “Every once in a while, I’ll just stop  and watch what’s going on,” says neurologist Michael A. Williams. “When you see  how many people come to that statue, it tells you the value of faith and  spirituality that people hold and maybe speaks louder than any spreadsheet could  for enhancing our ability to give, not only through a beautiful silent statue,  but through the services we provide here.”

– Lindsay Roylance by

God is love 1John 4:16


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