Photo: Felix Carroll

'A Temple Built on Living Stone'

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By Dan Valenti (May 29, 2010)
Marking the Golden Anniversary of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Stockbridge, Mass., on May 29, the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, Bishop of Springfield, formally rededicated the structure "to God's mercy at work in our lives and as a symbol of hope for all of us."

The rededication ceremony drew more than 800 pilgrims to America's home of Divine Mercy, on Eden Hill in the bucolic Berkshires, according to Chris Alar, volunteer coordinator who will be taking vows as a Marian later this year. Many Marian priests, brothers, seminarians, novices, and postulants attended the day's events.

* * * View a photo gallery from the day. * * *

In his rededication prayer, Bishop McDonnell stood directly in front of the National Shrine. He faced the beautiful stone edifice, surrounded by a three-deep semicircle of pilgrims. He invoked the Church as "a temple built on living stone, founded in the Gospels." He then blessed the Shrine and the pilgrims with holy water.

Mercy Fills the Void Caused by Sin
Ultimately, people go on pilgrimages to seek that "living stone," to find the completion to what is missing in their lives. The answer to "what's missing" is always spiritual. Possessions, wealth, and distractions cannot fill the void caused by sin. They can only momentarily blunt the pain.

"I need all the graces I can get," said Martha Polastri of Manchester, Conn. "This is the place to get it, this Shrine, which is a wellspring of God's love, His mercy, and His forgiveness. Soak it up, baby, soak it up." Polastri spoke from experience, she said, having first come to Eden Hill for Divine Mercy Sunday. She attributed the conversion of her 21-year-old daughter to the intercession of The Divine Mercy.

Rita Patricia Matoon from the Fultonville, N.Y., area said she came to the Golden Anniversary celebration to "be a part of history." Matoon said she had read about the celebration in stories published by the Marian Fathers. "I had this day circled on my calendar since January," she said. "I couldn't wait. I'm delighted to be on hand to share this day with the Marians. So much good work comes from [Eden Hill]."

There is 'hope for all of us'
In his homily, Bishop McDonnell began with a comment on Luke's Gospel story of Zacchaeus, the man of short stature who climbed a sycamore tree so he could get a good view of Jesus (Lk 19:1-10). When Jesus called the wealthy Zacchaeus down from the tree and invited Himself to the man's home, the crowd grumbled, because Zacchaeus was a known as a sinner.

"Even Zacchaeus had a chance," Bishop McDonnell said to laughter. "That gives me hope for all of us."

The line neatly set the tone for "the rest of the story," as the bishop called it, evoking the signature sign-off of radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. Bishop McDonnell encapsulated the history of the message of God's mercy historically throughout the Old and New Testaments and spiritually through St. Faustina, noting how the Marian Fathers were "entrusted by God" to share this message with the world.

Command Central for that sharing is at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, according to the bishop: "We see here [in the Shrine] something that is truly from God. Divine Mercy is now worldwide," largely because of the work being done on Eden Hill. "Here is a place of peace, a place of contentment, a place of mercy."

Eden Hill, Bishop McDonnell said, "is at the heart of God's mercy, and what is the Heart of the Heart? Jesus, The Divine Mercy, who asks simply that we trust in Him."

For the future, Bishop McDonnell entrusted the National Shrine to the continuation of the good work: spreading word of God's love and mercy for everyone. We do not have to "do" anything to be saved, the bishop said. Jesus already paid that price. We simply need to accept it.

Witnesses and Testimonials Inspire the Crowd
Prior to the Mass, the pilgrims heard the witness of Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, the Marians' vocation director. Father Donald shared his dramatic story from wayward youth and teenage criminal to Marian priest in compelling terms, often using self-deprecating humor. Following his talk, a long line formed to buy signed copies of his new book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy (Marian Press).

After Fr. Donald's talk, singer-songwriter Randy Albright presented "A Musical Celebration of Mary." After a 25-year career in country music, Albright began to focus his music on Catholic themes. He composed and recorded his first Catholic album in 2005 and has since recorded another CD. Albright concluded by leading the pilgrims in praying the Rosary.

Brother Leonard Konopka, MIC, who was present on May 30, 1960, when then-Bishop of Springfield Christopher J. Weldon first dedicated the Shine, then shared a wonderful testimony, revealing intricate details about the Shrine's construction.

Brother Leonard, who joined the Marians in 1951, performed a variety of construction jobs at the Shrine under the director of the builder, wood carver and cabinetmaker Antonio Guerrieri. One incident involving Guerrieri affected Br. Leonard for the rest of his life.

It occurred one day after Guerrieri had assigned to Br. Leonard the job of carving one of the 10 "keystones" that can be seen above the stained-glass windows.

They serve as the "center piece" for the round arches that are joined together above these same windows. Fortunately, the wood was much softer to carve, almost like pine but much richer in texture and color.

It was while carving these keystones that I had one of my most memorable and learning experiences working with Mr. Guerrieri. There was a point when I became rather tired and irritated at my lack of progress in carving some of these very detailed ornaments. Invariably, I also had to pause because the chisels had to be sharpened otherwise they would not perform very well.

Since these keystones were to be placed rather high on the wall, I subtly complained to Mr. Guerrieri about no one really appreciating all this effort from that distance. I still remember him taking my arm and squeezing it. Then with a fatherly look in his gentle eyes, he said: "But don't you know? God sees!"

Well, I was totally embarrassed. He was using my language. I was supposed to say those sorts of things instead of him. However, he would never know how much that comment would help me during the following years when I experienced difficulties and countless frustrations. He was one of the best influences in my life and I will never forget that lesson. God truly does see all things. He can be trusted!

Following Mass, pilgrims prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, followed by Benediction, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, blessing of holy objects, and blessings with a first-class relic of St. Faustina.

Through Dec. 31, 2010, the pious faithful have the opportunity to receive a Divine Mercy Golden Jubilee Plenary Indulgence. Learn more.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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