Charles Verdun, Photo Courtesy of Omar Muhammad (241485)
Charles Verdun, Photo Courtesy of Omar Muhammad (241484)

On June 2, I had the opportunity to meet Jesus on the corner of 56th Street and Western Avenue. He was in the form of Charles Camille Allen Verdun. I first caught a glimpse of this man carrying what looked like a giant nine-foot tall cross as he was just hitting the corner from his modest home on 56th Street near the corner of Western Avenue. This is the same corner that just the night before was a part of the Western Avenue sex worker’s strip. This same corner becomes a pivotal point as Verdun converts it into a figurative The Via Dolorosa, the name of the sacred stretch of road in the famed old city of Jerusalem where his historical predecessor Jesus, The Christ had walked.

So, I was thrilled the other day when I saw him again. I jumped out of my car and stopped him in his trek to ask a few questions. He was gracious enough to endure my line of questioning; it was as though he was expecting it. I must be honest, I did not know what to expect. My first thought was that he was just another crazy person. One of the many mentally ill people on the streets of Los Angeles. But upon further inquiry, I discovered that he is not insane. He is rational and because of his passion for justice for the veterans and all people, he had been in letter correspondence with the former President Barack Obama and the Vatican office in Rome. In fact, I believe him to be quite sane. However, by his own admission, he is medicated and under the care of a psychiatrist.

One of the first questions I asked Verdun was why is he was carrying the cross? His response was simple. “I carry the cross for justice and world peace.” This is made evident when you look at the vertical part of the cross where flags are posted from various countries with American flag being the tallest. Verdun told me that he regularly carries the cross from his apartment to the 8:30 a.m. Morning Mass at St. Brigid Catholic Church at 5214 S. Western Ave.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that Verdun was moreso dragging the cross than carrying it. He told me that it was not hard for him because he is only carrying 5 percent of the weight, and that God was carrying 95 percent of the weight with him. I had the opportunity to lift his cross. It was easily 70lbs and very uncomfortable.

Verdun is 73 years young and began carrying the cross after having been tormented by dreams of his tour in the Air Force in the US-Vietnam War. He intended to enlist for 20 years but due to the racial tension and disrespect of other Black men he decided to get out of the Air Force after almost eight years. (I was able to verify four years from his DD-214 honorable discharge form).

He recounted how he and other Black soldiers had been treated “worse than a dog,” after their return from war; and he wasn’t even able to acquire food stamps upon his return because he was told by a social worker that he made too much money from his fixed income of $1,700 a month.

Verdun’s story took a darker turn after his mother Margaret Boutte Verdun died on January 21, 1974. Walter Dodge, the local funeral director at the Jacquemoud Funeral home in New Iberia, L., refused to provide funeral services for his mother because she was Black. He then sought out Fletcher’s, a Black-owned funeral home, to make arrangements for his mom’s burial service but when he returned to retrieve her body was charged a fee for the embalming, which he couldn’t afford. He called his brother for assistance and when he arrived, so did 10 KKK members. To de-escalate the situation, Mr. Fletcher paid the fee to retrieve the woman’s body. From that moment on Verdun became filled with rage and hatred and obsessed over revenge.

He eventually sought professional help and turned to God for direction.

Verdun says the command he received was to lay down his weapons and desire to kill and pick up the Cross of Jesus Christ. His direction was to reenact the walk of shame of Jesus Christ as he carried the cross for the liberation of humanity from sin, according to Christian belief.

For Verdun he sees this an act of contrition and repentance that brings about a level of peace of mind for his part of the war on humanity and his wife Marie believes it provides him “a sense of relief from the torment in his mind.” This peace is supported by prayer, therapy, and medication (that the Dr. instructed him to take every day for the rest of his life). Marie said that only when Verdun started carrying the Cross did he begin to sleep through the night.

Verdun drew his inspiration to endure this redemptive work for almost 44 years from Jesus Christ and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After 17 years of faithfully carrying out this divine mission in South Los Angeles, Verdun has become a local icon loved and respected by many of the locals, especially the children of the nearby Barack Obama Charter School.

The Cross that Verdun carries now is, in fact, his third. He left the first one in his hometown, Iberia, La. where he started carrying the mission. A friend crafted his second one in Los Angeles and it was stolen after he had taken his one-man crusade to Figueroa Street to carry the cross for the forgiveness of the sex workers and their patrons in area. The third iteration of the Cross of Christ was made and sponsored by members of the local churches in which he passes on his pilgrimage. The pastors had heard about the stolen cross and they wanted to be sure that Verdun could get back to his mission of being a “living sacrifice” for justice and world peace.

Verdun has the sense that he is coming to the end of his assignment but says he wants to get the message out that “War is not the answer.” He is raising money for a truck so that he can take his cross to different cities and spread his message as he is led by God. He also hopes to one day carry his cross along the original path that Jesus did more than 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.

Before I left the home of the Verduns, Marie asked if I believed world peace was possible. I answered in the affirmative, I have hope because of people like Charles C. A. Verdun.

Anyone interested in helping to fulfill the hopes and dreams of this proven warrior for social justice and world peace is welcome to share this story on their social media platforms. Video of this interview is available on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/omar.a.muhammad?hc_ref=SEARCH. Charles Verdun can be personally reached at (323) 396-4918.