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Guatemalan Catholics create gorgeous sawdust ‘carpets’ of Christ, Mary

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As mournful processional music played and smoke rose from a wood-burning caldron, Guatemalan members of Alfo-Conce delicately pressed flecks of colored wood into the ground. In the shadow of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church, sand, rice and sawdust became images of the Trinity, Our Lady and Christ crucified. 

It was a sunny, mid-morning on Good Friday, March 30, but the construction of the carpets had begun hours earlier, and wouldn’t be finished until mid-afternoon, said Jorge Cabrera, who leads the organization. Alfo-Conce is an abbreviation of alfombra, the Spanish word for carpet, and Concepción Chiquirichapa, the members’ native town in Guatemala.

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A man works on a sawdust carpet of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Good Friday, March 30, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.

To participate, members pay money for the materials and collect money to send to Guatemala. When they started in 2005, the group collected $4,000 to fix the church in Concepción. They continue to send money to the less fortunate there.

In addition to aiding their countrymen, the carpet artwork, which they make on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, is a way to keep their faith and culture alive in the United States. “We learned from our country,” said Cabrera. 

Weeks before, members purchased sawdust locally and special dye from Guatemala, then mixed them together. Images were chosen and sketched onto large sheets of paper. 

On Good Friday, some 30 adults and children wearing purple Alfo-Conce T-shirts crowded around the nine drawings laid on the sidewalk. Surrounded by bags, buckets and bowls of tinted sawdust, the members gingerly poured the shavings in between the lines, then smushed them together with their hands or pieces of cardboard. Slowly, a crown of thorns, rays of a halo, and outstretched arms emerged.

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Some 30 people, including teens and children, helped to make the nine sawdust carpets for Good Friday. 

The carpet of Our Lady of Guadalupe was especially vivid with a sky blue and teal background, and Mary’s bright red robe. At the bottom was written, “In memory of Mrs. Z,” the recently deceased mother of Father Matthew H. Zuberbueler, pastor of St. Anthony. 

After the carpets were completed, many attended the Good Friday liturgies or the Vía Crucis procession. At the end of the evening, the labor of love was swept and shoveled away. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018