It's a Blessing!
September 18, 2012
by Dan Valenti
For decades, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception have envisioned a life-size Stations of the Cross to grace the grounds of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. As we all know, God answers prayers.
The Marians welcomed the Most Rev. Timothy McDonnell, Bishop of Springfield, Mass., to the Shrine in Stockbridge, Mass., to formally dedicate and bless the 14 life-size Stations of the Cross on Friday, Sept. 14. The bishop blessed each of the magnificent bronze stations, the work of renowned master sculptor Timothy Schmalz. A crowd of about 300 pilgrims, including many of the Marians and their Eden Hill staff, accompanied the bishop along the Way of the Cross. The Eden Hill stations are one of only five in North America that are life-size.
Though the statues are grand and monumental, the stations focus not on art or aesthetics but on the Suffering Christ in His Passion. These works are religious art of the first order.
"These statues depict human suffering born out of love for another," said Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Marians in the United States and Argentina. "For a Catholic Christian, such art is a form of meditative prayer on Christ's life, especially the final moments of His life. This is the mystery of our faith. Jesus — the Son of Man and Son of God — manifests God the Father's absolute love for humanity. We proclaim here the message of Divine Mercy. The greatest expression of God's mercy for us is God's offering of Himself on our behalf so that we may not suffer the consequences of our wrongdoing and sin."
Schmalz, who attended the dedication, said, "The idea behind life-size figures is to convey a sense of presence in the eyes of the viewer. There's something so powerful, so human, in seeing life-size depictions. Something mystical happens to us when we see human figures depicted on a life-size scale."
In welcoming the bishop and pilgrims to the Shrine, Fr. Kaz invoked God's blessing on this "joyous day."
Father Kaz noted the long wait: "Today, all of us rejoice, for this is truly a dream come true. When the Marians built and opened the National Shrine in 1960, we had already picked the location for each of the stations. We only had to wait for God to send us a benefactor." In 1997, the Marians took a pragmatic step toward fulfilling the dream when the Congregation reserved a large section of Eden Hill for the stations.
About 10 years later, benefactors — a married couple who wish to remain anonymous — came along to supply the funding.
"The donors are happy in the knowledge that the gift they made will have a lasting impact on so many pilgrims to Eden Hill," said John Foster, who works in the Special Gifts Office at the Marian Helpers Center on Eden Hill.
In his opening remarks, Bishop McDonnell called the statues "magnificent. The Way of the Cross reminds us that God loves us so much that He gave us His only begotten Son, and that Christ loves us so much to lay down his life for us."
At each of the 14 stations, Bishop McDonnell led with a meditation on the meaning of the station. The reflections were those of Pope John Paul II, who as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, gave the Lenten retreat in 1976 for Pope Paul VI and the Roman Curia (the Holy See's administrative body).
In his comments prior to the blessings, Bishop McDonnell noted how the "God of all" has saved us through the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Therein lies the "spiritual value" of the Stations of the Cross, the bishop said: "[They] vividly remind us of the outpouring of love God bestowed on us as sinners. They remind us of our need to follow the Way of the Cross with all we have, all body, mind, heart, and soul."
In the opening prayer, Bishop McDonnell noted this love: "Christ Jesus has loved us and redeemed us in His blood. With praise and thanksgiving to Him who has died and risen for us, let us call upon Him by saying, 'O Lord, you have redeemed us in Your blood.'" That served as the refrain for the assembled pilgrims.
At each of the stations, after Bishop McDonnell read the meditation of Pope John Paul II. Marian novice Tim Childers and Br. Chris Alar, MIC, alternated with reading the response.
After the final station had been dedicated, the bishop blessed the faithful with a relic of the True Cross. He thanked everyone for their attendance and remarked how thrilled he was to have taken part in such a major event for his diocese: "These stations will long be here, and it's wonderful to think of all the joy they will continue to bring, for generations yet to come, who visit this glorious Shrine."
Father Ken Dos Santos, MIC, rector of the National Shrine, said that the stations reinforce that point, that through Christ's Passion, death, and Resurrection, God has broken the hold of sin over humankind:
"Jesus said 'I am the way.' This 'way' is the Way of the Cross. We all suffer, but if we offer the suffering up to God, as Jesus, we can 'break with sin.'"
Pilgrims, who arrived from many areas of the country, remarked on the life-like, almost animated nature of the statues.
"When I see these figures, I feel like I'm there with Jesus," said James Roberts from Wisconsin. "I get some idea of what it must have been like to go through [the Passion]. It humbles me to know that Christ did this for me, and He would have done it the same way for me even if I was the only person on earth. There's something about seeing the size [of the statues]."