February 23, 2024
From left to right: University President Peter Kilpatrick, journalist William McGurn, University trustee Julie McGurn, and Busch School of Business Dean Andrew Abela (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

An image of the crucified Christ drawn by human rights activist and Catholic convert Jimmy Lai from his prison cell was unveiled by his friends and supporters on Thursday in Maloney Hall. The artwork was donated by Lai’s godfather, journalist William McGurn, and his wife Julie, who is a University trustee. 

The Catholic University of America bestowed an honorary degree in absentia on Lai in 2022 for his prominent role in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in the face of the Chinese government’s crackdown on civil liberties. The media mogul, who is accused of violating the controversial national security law, took up religious art in prison where he is currently in solitary confinement. 

McGurn said the rare piece is one of the last allowed out of Lai’s cell because “the authorities realized his art has a lot of power.” He said Lai creates with what is available to him in prison, noting the 18″ x 33″ depiction of the suffering Christ was created with colored pencils and two sheets of notebook paper. 

“Through his art, Jimmy is speaking from prison. Julie and I donated this image to Catholic University because he would regard this university as the perfect spot for it,” said McGurn. “This is one of the last and one of the most distinctive. The other ones are about half the size.”  

During the ceremony, University Chaplain Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau blessed the artwork that now hangs across from the entrance to St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Maloney Hall. Andrew Abela said it is an honor to have the image in the home of the Busch School of Business, of which he is dean, because Lai’s life speaks volumes about the power of “faith and freedom.” 

University President Peter Kilpatrick said in his remarks that he believes Lai’s art is part of an important spiritual journey that should serve as an inspiration to all who view this powerful meditation on Christ’s passion. 

“I am so grateful for his witness,” said Kilpatrick. “I hope and pray that Jimmy will be reunited with his family.” 

Fr. Robert Sirico, M.Div. 1987, an executive producer for a documentary about Lai’s struggle, arrived at the ceremony after returning from Hong Kong where he attended the most recent trial for his friend’s purported political offenses. He said to those gathered that Lai chose not to flee because of his faith, which continues to serve as a source of strength and solace. 

“Lai is not in jail because he is Catholic, but he voluntarily offered himself because he is Catholic,” said Fr. Sirico, who expressed his hope that the image will serve as a powerful reminder of the self-sacrifice of Christians and all those who defend human rights in Hong Kong and throughout China.