A central element of Catholicism is to help the unfortunate by giving whatever one can. Fairhill resident and construction worker Juan Ortiz, 67, understands this obligation and has found an eye-catching way to give to his church.
“I’m a Catholic, that’s why I built it,” Ortiz said.
A surprisingly casual response for a project eight years in the making and from a man who speaks very little English.
Ortiz erected an almost life-size statue of the Virgin Mary encased in a glass unit, protecting her from the elements on the outside wall of the home he’s lived in for more than 35 years. Every rock, flower and light is ornately placed. The attached water fountain Ortiz added on allows fellow residents the opportunity to drop their coins all while seeking solace in the shrine.
Ortiz said he takes the collected coins to his church, Visitation B.V.M. Catholic Church, on the corner of Lehigh and B streets, only blocks away from his house.
The regular customers of the Albertina Grocery Store next door to the Ortiz family are constant contributors to the water fountain.
“It is so beautiful,” said Jose Espinal, 62, a friend of Ortiz and a worker at Albertina’s.
In a community overwhelmed by abandoned houses and lots, the shrine Ortiz built–simply because he believed it was his Catholic duty–stands out to the average passer-by. Ortiz said he hopes his neighbors appreciate the beauty of his creation and empty their pockets of spare change.