A chaplet with a crucifix fashioned on black cord. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)
The chaplet consists of a cross on a cord with seven sets of three knots each that is worn around the neck over one's clothing, visible for all of Lent.
Starting Ash Wednesday, parishioners wear the cross and pray seven Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes everyday for a specific member of the parish or community. On Good Friday, that cross is then given to that person.
During his time as a missionary in Venezuela, Father Statz noted that there was need for a visible sign of the cross.
"There was an evangelical church on almost every street corner," the Minnesota priest said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service. He decided that a tradition where the cross could be seen by all would be good for both the faith of his parishioners and it would help to evangelize the barrios where he ministered.
The opportunity afforded by Ash Wednesday to visibly display the cross gave him the idea for what would later become the Lenten chaplet. "It's a good way to evangelize our own people and others in the barrios," he said. He views it a powerful tool in bringing the word of God to everyone.
Through the cross, "people are brought into the church," said Father Statz.
The Venezuelans assembled rosary-type crosses out of "wood and leaves" in such a manner that they could be worn for the whole of Lent. "The immediate response was very positive," the priest said.
After returning to the United States, Father Statz introduced the tradition to his own parish, Our Lady of the Angels in Sauk Centre, Minn. His parishioners were receptive to the practice and immediately adopted the idea. Since its introduction almost10 years ago, the local youth groups also have incorporated it into their fundraisers.
"We've done it since it started," said one parishioner, Maria Minette. "I like it a lot because it helps to focus on others during Lent."
"Sometimes we do it as a family and sometimes we do it individually," she said. Commenting on the effectiveness and the power of the cross, she added, "It's especially powerful for teens, for younger adults -- visually wearing the cross for the days of Lent and having people ask about it gives them a chance to talk about their faith."
The youth groups in the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., make the chaplets. "Each year we get a new crucifix and this year we had them blessed by (Pope) Benedict XVI," Father Statz said.
This tradition is used especially for the confirmation students, but the entire congregation is invited to participate. And the practice has started to spread to other churches in the area, including St. Paul's Parish, also in Sauk Centre.
"Sacramentals assist the sacraments -- they go with the liturgy and extend it. Some other parishes have picked up on it and benefited," Father Statz said.
The parishioners have been instrumental in the spreading of the tradition and in participating in the Lenten devotion. "I actually would like to see it spread farther," said Minette.