Azalea Display Prompts Pause 

The cross is located in its designated azalea gardens in a section of the park that faces Bellevue Avenue. It's about 20 feet in length and 12 feet wide. The shrubbery arrangement dates back more than half a century to when the city-owned park in North Side was in its prime. Historically, it had been an Easter display. The cross had even been a tourist attraction and was pictured in postcards.

That was then, this is now, Sarahan says. A former attorney with the city of Richmond and now a regular City Council gadfly, he recalls having worked on issues regarding the city's stance on religious symbols, namely, when and if they are appropriate in public places. An example, he says, are Christian icons placed in City Hall at Christmas. The city office building is much more commercialized now than it was years ago, with little or no religious props.

"You can understand in the sensibilities of the time 40 or 50 years ago. But in the sensibilities of our time, in a multicultural and interfaith society, we should be more attuned" to the meaning such symbols evoke, he says.

It has only been recently that the azalea cross has been revived, thanks to volunteer efforts. New bushes have been added and old ones pruned. Blossoms now are full.

The question may be whether they will appear the same way again next year. Sarahan says he called the city attorney's office last week and was told the attorneys would look into the matter. Beverly Burton, a city attorney who works with the department of parks and recreation, could not be reached by press time.

Sarahan says he has a simple solution that should be amenable to everyone. "I've suggested that, at the right time for the plants which may be the fall, they be moved into a different arrangement so there isn't a religious significance. Instead, they're just really beautiful plants - part of God's creation the way they are." — Brandon Walters



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