Photo: Felix Carroll
A New Shrine Debuts
It's for the Children. It's Tranquil. And There is Healing Underway.
By Felix Carroll (Apr 10, 2010)
It will be a place of healing.
That's what the Marians have repeatedly predicted during the last two years, referring to a new shrine they've built on Eden Hill designed to memorialize the most innocent.
The Marians were right. It really is a place of healing.
"Overwhelming," is how Marie Golba of Chicopee, Mass., put it.
She was among the thousands of pilgrims who came to Eden Hill April 10-11, for the annual Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend celebration, a weekend in which the nearly completed Shrine of the Holy Innocents had its debut.
A life-size statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe had just been installed days prior. Upon the wall were colorful glass tiles, which will soon contain a growing list of etched names memorializing children who died from abortion, through miscarriage, who were stillborn, or who died from any cause at a young age.
"You can feel her love," Marie said, after saying a prayer before the bronze statue, "and you can feel the infusion of the Holy Spirit. It's just — I can't describe it, not at all. It's just too precious. This is an important place. In fact, when I get home, I'm going to tell the people in my prayer group that we should make a pilgrimage here."
Father Anthony Gramlich, MIC, rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, said the Shrine of the Holy Innocents sprang as the fruit from a special ministry. On Eden Hill, he leads Rachel's Vineyard retreats for men and women who seek healing and reconciliation following an abortion. During one such retreat he was asked why the National Shrine doesn't provide a place where children may be memorialized.
"That got me thinking," he said.
His thinking has led to this: a sacred place where parents, grandparents, friends, and other relatives can have a child's name etched and where they can come and reconnect with a lost child.
The new shrine is contained within the lower level of the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine — known best as the location of the Sacred Liturgy during Divine Mercy Sunday and other special events. The new shrine, said Fr. Anthony, is like "the womb" of the outdoor shrine.
"That's why it's hidden," he said. "It's a sacred place of prayer, mercy, and hope where the children are safe within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
"I know the Lord wants this," he said.
Susan Wills, assistant director for education and outreach and secretariat of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the shrine emphasizes a crucial role of the Church in ministering to those who suffer the most painful loss: the loss of a child.
"Having a memorial makes concrete the reality of a child's life and death, and it helps focus the attention and love of the parents who are grieving on something external to themselves," she said. "That's very important. They can't continue to carry their child's existence only in their heart and mind."
The Shrine of the Holy Innocents is now listed as a place of healing in the new Project Rachel Ministry: A Post-Abortive Resource Manual.
On its debut, on Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend, the Shrine of The Holy Innocents served as the tranquil counterpart to Eden Hill's most clamorous celebrations.
One by one, pilgrims entered the holy space. Many knelt at one of the kneelers. Many lit a candle. Many touched the statue of Our Lady. Many left in tears.
Music played. It was children singing, like a choir of angels.
"In my own family there were abortions," said Dee Mastroianni of Hudson, N.Y., a crisis pregnancy councilor. "I lit a candle for them and for my family.
"It's really important that we recognize the unborn and those children who died young," she said. "This shrine gives them the dignity they deserve. We never had a place to come — a place where you can recognize our young loved ones. We never had that before, and so now we do."
For Cindy Eksuzian, a perennial volunteer for Divine Mercy Weekend, being stationed at the new shrine was an unexpected blessing. Years ago, she lost a child.
"This is a personal place for me to be," said Cindy, who lives in Northampton, Mass. "It's a very profound experience being here. When people come in to pray, I feel it. I can feel the energy here, and it's very deep, and it's cleansing.
"People who come in are really hurting," she said, "or they're regretting. From my perspective, it's regret. And I suddenly feel I can actually do something with this regret. Everyone else who comes in also has that same feeling.
"It's really a beautiful thing," she said. "There is a place now. A place that's spiritual, on spiritual ground that's dedicated to The Divine Mercy."
She points to the display window of her digital camera and calls up a photo. It's of a candle glowing bright against the darkness.
She had lit the candle only moments ago for the baby she lost.
"This place, what I think it will do is give people the courage to face their pain," Cindy said.
For more information on the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, or to honor the memory of the soul of a child, visit memorialsonedenhill.org/sohi; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 1-800-671-2020.