Inspired by the Statue of Liberty, a 40-foot-tall monument of Mary, mother of Jesus, will stand as a symbol intended to welcome immigrants and refugees headed to the U.S.

The statue will go up on the hilltop parking lot of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in San Ysidro, where community members convened Friday to kick off a crowdfunding campaign to raise $1 million to build the monument. The parking lot overlooks the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It will stand as a beacon of hope and encouragement for people engaged in the struggle of the migrant,” said artist Jim Bliesner, who drew inspiration from immigrants across San Diego for the statue’s design.

The $2 million project, spearheaded by nonprofit San Diego Organizing Project, already has received $1 million from the California Endowment, a private health foundation. The hope is to raise the next $1 million and build the statue by early 2019.

It will be named “Welcome the Stranger.”

Bishop Robert McElroy, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, said the monument and its location will send a strong message about the border.

“It is a symbol and powerful reminder that for us, for us as people of faith, for us as America, the border represents not a line of separation,” he said, “but a line that unites us to Latin America.”

The idea of the sculpture surfaced roughly a year ago. It was designed by Bliesner with input from community members who attended workshops, where they shared their ideas and personal stories.

“Most of the inspiration came from listening to members of the congregation and the community about how emotional this subject is. People were crying, people were telling their stories,” Bliesner said. “I couldn’t help but take that away as the primary element in creating the piece.”

As ideas were generated, Mary emerged as a symbol of hope. Community members noted she fled with her family to Egypt as a refugee soon after the birth of Jesus.

The statue incorporates several symbolic elements. The “turgid, severe geometry” of Mary’s robe, which has several perforations, represents the difficult trek immigrants embark on, while spots of color in the folds of her robe symbolize moments of kindness in their journeys, Bliesner said.

The torch, he said, represents hope for a brighter future.

LEED lighting within the statue will illuminate it at night. Seating and drought-tolerant landscaping will surround the base.

Full story at San Diego U-T.