'The whole world will see it': Crafting the papal chair

Craftsmen in Panama have built a towering cedar chair for Pope Francis to use when he arrives this week to preside over World Youth Day

LOS POZOS, Panama -- A handful of carpenters were putting the finishing details on a towering cedar chair, detailed with carvings and crowned by a triangular pediment.

Still missing were its white upholstery and two ornamental shields representing the Vatican and Pope Francis, who will use it when he visits Panama starting Wednesday to preside over World Youth Day.

"You know who the chair is for, where it is going to be shown," said Hernan Guardia, 42, whose workshop is responsible for crafting the elegant throne. "Practically the whole world will see it."

That will happen Saturday, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) to the northeast at the Santa Maria la Antigua Cathedral in the Panamanian capital's colonial core.

The cathedral was closed for several years for restoration work that finally concluded in December, and it will reopen to the public after Francis consecrates it.

Guardia has made a name for himself for years repairing and crafting wooden furniture for churches in Panama City's historic quarter.

In addition to the papal chair, his workshop has also built 200 pews for the cathedral as well as 16 bishops' chairs, one for Panamanian Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa and 24 more for priests. To get the job done, Guardia doubled his staff to 20 artisans.

From all the wood that was procured for the furnishings, Guardia said the best and finest pieces were selected for Francis' chair, which stands about 6 1/2 feet (just over 2 meters) tall and was based on a design provided by the Roman Catholic Church.

"I have taken it on in a very simple way," he said, adding that filling this order required discipline and rigor at every stage. "It's just another job that we have to carry out, only with a very special meaning."