NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Like most teen-agers who have been confined to online learning and restricted from attending social gatherings with friends during the Coronavirus pandemic, 18-year-old Jill Fernandes has had a little spare time on her hands.
So she recently set out to use some of her God-given talents to offer a simple message of hope and faith.
“My faith life has been greatly impacted by the people I have met throughout all of the retreats and volunteer work I have done,” Fernandes recently told The Anchor. “If you ask literally anyone in my life, they will confirm that I have ‘big ideas’ that are sometimes impossible for someone my age, but I somehow manage to do it.”
Fernandes’ latest “big idea” was to design, construct and build two large wooden crosses — one depicting Jesus as He died on Good Friday, and another reflecting the hope of the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday — and install them on the front lawn of St. Lawrence Martyr Church in New Bedford.
“I made two different crosses and the plan was to change them over on Easter morning,” Fernandes said. “The one of Jesus being a symbol of Him and what He went through for us during Holy Week, and the one of the dove being a symbol of His Resurrection and the hope it gave to all of His disciples then and to us now.”
A senior at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical School, Fernandes is studying in the childcare program, but she considers carpentry and set painting among her “hobbies” and has even done volunteer work for the theater company at Bishop Stang High School.
A lifelong parishioner at St. Lawrence Martyr, she also graduated from Holy Family-Holy Name School in 2016 and has been active with the parish youth group, has been a team member on youth retreats, and currently teaches Religious Education classes at the parish.
It’s no wonder that Father Michael Racine, pastor of St. Lawrence Martyr Parish, was immediately onboard when Fernandes first approached him about the project.
“The highlight of Holy Week was a surprise as the talents of our young parishioner, Jill Fernandes, were shown off at St. Lawrence,” Father Racine said. “She constructed two beautiful outdoor crosses that were placed in front of the church — one depicting Jesus crucified which was placed outside on Palm Sunday, and an empty cross with a dove scene placed outside on Holy Saturday and illuminated at night. She purchased all the materials and constructed them herself. She is very talented and very faithful to the parish. I was so intrigued by her talent.”
Fernandes’ work became a trending topic online as she posted a TikTok video of how it all came together and local Facebook followers picked up on the unique venture.
Using some of the same carpentry skills that Jesus likely used in His day, Fernandes provided a simple reminder that Christ has not abandoned us during these difficult days.
“I just wanted people to remember to be hopeful and to have faith, even though times might be tough,” she said. “I think that it has encouraged people to see the bright side of things and help them realize that their faith is always there. A quote has stuck with me through all of this that says: ‘Faith is the friend that is always there when everything else seems to go wrong.’”