Log in
    

'Crown jewel' of national shrine dedicated

The overflowing congregation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception hardly needed reminding to raise their "eyes to the heavens" during a dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic Dec. 8.
 
Before Mass began, all eyes were already on the newly completed gold dome above the front central section of the Upper Church.
 
When it was blessed during Mass, incense rose above the congregation and bright lights were turned on to give a better view of the newly finished dome that includes the words of the Nicene Creed encircling the base and a depiction of the Holy Trinity, Mary, the four Evangelists, angels and more than a dozen saints connected to the United States or the shrine.
 
During the blessing and before and after Mass, phones and cameras were held aloft to capture the completed work more than two years in the making. But it would take more than a few pictures to capture the details in this majestic work of art described as the "crown jewel" of the national shrine during introductory remarks by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector.
 
The dome mosaic is composed of more than 14 million pieces of Venetian glass covering more than 18,300 square feet of the dome's surface. Its completion marks the final step in finishing the work of the Upper Church that began in 1955.
 
The dome was dedicated, fittingly, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, reflecting the basilica's namesake. The dedication Mass was celebrated by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, who was named by Pope Francis to be his special envoy at the dedication Mass.
 
Other cardinals concelebrating the Mass included Cardinals Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington and Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, along with Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They were joined by more than two dozen bishops and 90 priests.
 
Cardinal Wuerl pointed out in his homily that the mosaic tiles in the dome are symbolic of the living body of Christ regularly filling the pews of the shrine and reflecting the Church's diversity.
 
He urged the congregation of families, women religious, students and people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who filled the pews, the side chapels and stood in the back at the dedication Mass to always look to this "great majestic dome mindful of our prayer to Mary" and ask for her intercession.
 
He said Mary is the model of "what our faith should be" because she believed that nothing was impossible with God.
 
The cardinal said he remembered coming to the shrine when he was a student at The Catholic University of America in the 1960s when the walls were simply brick except for the mosaic image of the Risen Christ at the front of the church.
 
He also noted that the completion of the dome finishes a work that began nearly 100 years ago when the shrine's cornerstone was placed in 1920.
 
As construction began on the National Shrine, as it was then called, Catholics throughout the country were invited to contribute however they could. Some donated pieces of gold jewelry and even precious stones, the cardinal said, which were fashioned into what came to be known as the "first chalice of the National Shrine" and was used at the Dec. 8 mosaic dedication.
 
When Pope Francis was at the shrine in 2015 to celebrate Mass and canonize St. Junipero Serra, he also blessed a piece of the mosaic: the words for the beginning and end of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God" and "Amen."
 
At the end of the dedication Mass, Msgr. Rossi thanked the artists and workers, some of whom were seated at the front of the church, for their work on the mosaic, which was done in Italy and shipped in 30,000 sections weighing 24 tons. He pointed out that no one was injured and no damages occurred in the installation.
 
He also thanked the many donors who contributed to the dome work and gave to the shrine's one-time national collection for the project on Mother's Day.
 
"This crown jewel of Mary's shrine is really your work, your gift to the Blessed Mother," he said.
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

'Tomb of Christ: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience'

In the nation's capital, a $15 museum ticket and pair of 3-D glasses is the passport Christian pilgrims and others need to experience what may be the holiest site in Christianity.
 
Employing state-of-the-art technology, the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15 opened an exhibit that virtually transports visitors to the streets of Jerusalem and through the doors of a small church that protects what is believed to be the site of Christ's burial and, to Christians, the site of his resurrection.
 
"We put you in the Old City, we talk to you a little about the walls of the city, how they move over time and where the Gospels say that the Crucifixion took place, and try to give you the context," said Kathryn Keane, vice president of exhibitions for National Geographic during a Nov. 9 interview with Catholic News Service.
 
After an introductory video explaining some of the tumultuous history surrounding the tomb of Christ site, where structures above have been built and torn down repeatedly over the centuries, visitors walk toward a set where a virtual guide projected on a wall welcomes them to a courtyard just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
 
It's a visual appetizer to get them ready for the experience of, not just entering via 3-D through its doors, but also of flying over it and witnessing, from a bird's eye view, a time-lapse of the structure's physical history.
 
"We're not only taking you in the church the way it looks today but we also go up above the church and we take you back through time," said Keane. "It's a bit of a time machine and we show you all the evolutions of the building, from the time that it was, under (Roman emperor) Hadrian, a pagan temple."
 
"This is not what I would consider a traditional exhibit. It's more an experience than it is an exhibit," said National Geographic archaeologist Fred Hiebert, whose unique experience inside the church led to "Tomb of Christ: The Church of Holy Sepulchre Experience," which runs at the Washington museum until August 2018.
 
Last year, Hiebert witnessed various stages of a nine-month-long, $3 million restoration of the small shrine within the Holy Sepulcher that protects the tomb of Christ. The shrine often is referred to as the Edicule, Latin for "little house." During the process, the three religious groups with jurisdiction over the structure, and who had agreed on its restoration -- the Armenians, the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox -- agreed to also allow restorers to put a moisture barrier around the the tomb itself.
 
The tomb likely had not been opened in centuries and, at some point, marble slabs were placed on top, perhaps to keep pilgrims from taking home parts of it. It has been venerated since the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor who, in the fourth century, sent a team in search of the holy burial site. Soon after, they identified a quarry as that place and Constantine's mother, Helena, had a shrine built around it.
 
The exhibit explains how the effects of weather, earthquakes and also great numbers of pilgrims, many of whom light candles that contribute to a buildup of soot, had brought the structure to the brink of collapse.
 
It also explains the dilemma religious leaders faced when they learned that by injecting liquid mortar into the shrine to reinforce it, it presented the possibility that it would seep into the tomb itself -- defeating the purpose of protecting the most important part. They had to swiftly decide to shut down the shrine to allow the team to protect the tomb -- and that meant briefly opening it.
 
"They said, 'Do it, but don't take more than 60 hours to do it,'" said Hiebert.

When restorers temporarily shut down the site, Hiebert and other members of the National Geographic team were present to witness the opening of the tomb, which exposed the original limestone bed and the walls of the cave, which Christians believe witnessed Christ returning to life.
 
"To think that we, we were some of the few people who were locked in that church, got to see what people for hundreds and hundreds of years of Christianity hope to see, and we had a chance to see that ... if there's anything that drove me to do a virtual exhibit, it was that guilt," Hiebert said to an audience gathered at the museum on the opening night of the exhibit. "We have to tell the world about this."
 
The National Geographic team scanned the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the smaller structure inside, the Edicule, in such detail, that visitors who stop by the exhibit can don a VR, or virtual reality, headset and enter the tiny shrine, navigate the small passage way that leads to the tomb, a space that accommodates no more than three or four people, and see an exact visual representation of the tomb, without the real-life inconveniences.
 
"As tourist, you get maybe 15 seconds in the tomb and then they move you out," explained National Geographic engineer Corey Jaskolski at the opening night event. "Part of capturing this and being able to share it with the world through the National Geographic Museum is that we can let people spend as long as they want in the tomb. You can go in there and have your own personal experience and be able to see it in all its glory without the interruptions and bustle of the crowd around."
 
The exhibit explains some of the technology the restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens used, as well as what National Geographic used to scan the images that made the visual aspect of the exhibit possible.
 
"We can tell a story about great science and there's a certain great aspect of faith to it, too," said Hiebert.
 
Keane said the project is an intersection of history, architecture, science, technology and faith.
 
"All of these things aren't at odds with each other," she said.
 
The exhibit displays the document that Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan leaders signed in 2016, which made the restoration possible, while also noting in a timeline that the groups had agreed in principle in 1959 that the "little house" needed the renovations.
 
Hiebert applauded the cooperation among the religious groups as a "brave" and said of their ability to agree, "That happens once in a lifetime with these guys."
The project shows, Hiebert said, that there can be cooperation among different groups in the Middle East.
 
"Having reviewed the history of the (Holy Sepulcher) church, and realizing that it's a contested space, in a contested area … here was a project that was bringing people together to do something that was positive," he said. "That is a metaphor for optimism in the Middle East. In a place as difficult as Jerusalem, as complex as the Middle East, it's still possible to do an optimistic idealistic project."
 
Archaeologist Hiebert said the exhibit, as well as a TV show about the restoration of the tomb of Christ that National Geographic documented, will debut Dec. 3 on its cable channel. The December cover story of National Geographic magazine also focuses on archaeology and what it reveals about the life of Christ. It shows that science and faith can go hand in hand, Hiebert said.
 
"When we look back on the history of exploration and even the history of National Geographic, we realize that this idea that science is divorced from faith is not true," he said. "It seemed to me natural that National Geographic would be in a position of, here's a site, which is sacred and historic, and we're about to embark on an epic adventure."
 
  • Published in World

Art's religious significance in D.C.

Elaborate artwork adorns the monumental buildings in the nation's capital, depicting the beauty and grandeur of the neoclassical era that inspired these buildings.
 
It is within these various forms of art that the principles on which the United States was founded come to life.
 
Much of this artwork illustrates virtue and features several religious figures, highlighting the influence of religion in the history of the United States.
 
Father Eugene Hemrick, a priest of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., is a columnist for Catholic News Service and the author of the book "One Nation Under God," which looks at the various religious symbols and images scattered throughout Washington.
 
To Father Hemrick, the early history of the United States makes it clear that the founders were dedicated to God and that their faith influenced their decisions for the nation.
 
"This country was established with a very strong religious background," Father Hemrick said in an interview July 3 with CNS.
 
According to a book published by the Department of the Interior, the men who signed the Constitution were predominantly members of the Protestant denominations that characterized early America, with only two men, Daniel Carroll and Thomas Fitzsimons, being Catholic.
 
"So we have their representation that these people were very conscious of religion," said Father Hemrick, who is in residence at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill.
 
The influence of a history teacher that Father Hemrick had years ago instilled within him a deep love for history. Combined with his interest in the arts, which moves him to play the violin every day, Father Hemrick writes in his book of his amazement at the abundance of religious symbolism found within the nation's capital.
 
"It's really the nature of our country, and anybody who says differently doesn't know their history of this country," Father Hemrick told CNS. "We are proud to parade these things."
 
When asked about a connection between the numerous religious symbols in the buildings on Capitol Hill and the nonsectarian nature of government, Father Hemrick emphasized the importance of preserving religious freedom.
 
"We're in a new age and a lot of those traditions have been lost, and they need to be rediscovered," Father Hemrick said.
 
Throughout the Supreme Court of the United States, visitors can view a plethora of references to virtue.
 
"The virtues which we talk about, such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are our whole moral way of looking at life," Father Hemrick said.
 
To the left of the front stairway to the Supreme Court building sits a sculpture titled "Contemplation of Justice" by James Earle Fraser. Contemplation, as Father Hemrick said, is often seen as another word for prayer. The woman depicted holds a blindfolded figure of Justice on her right and a book of laws sits on her left. The sculptor, as stated on the website SupremeCourt.gov, saw the woman as "a realistic conception of what I consider a heroic type of person with a head and body expressive of the beauty and intelligence of justice."
 
On the east side of the court building the sculptural group, "Justice is the Guardian of Liberty," by Herman McNeil, is featured inside the eastern pediment, where Moses holds what appears to be the Ten Commandments surrounded by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, and Solon, an Athenian lawmaker. Further down the pediment is an allegorical depiction of Mercy, according to Father Hemrick, in the form of a woman kneeling.
 
On the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol, the President's Room was used prior to 1933 as the place for the president to sign legislation at the end of congressional sessions. Today it is used by senators for press purposes. It was built in 1859 around the four principles held through the founding: liberty, legislation, executive authority and religion, according to Father Hemrick's book, "One Nation, Under God."
 
Father Hemrick writes, "As Religion looks down at us from the ceiling in the President's Room, she is a reminder that we are a nation of people who believe in religion."
 
In 1864, Congress passed a law permitting the president to invite each individual state to gift to the Capitol at most two statues of figures notable within their respective states. The statues were to be placed within the National Statuary Hall inside the Capitol.
 
Five statues of the statues there and in surrounding rooms within the Capitol have Catholic significance:
-- Mother Joseph, a Canadian missionary who contributed to 11 hospitals, seven academic institutions, and two orphanages in Washington State and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
-- St. Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary who founded the chain of missions in California.
-- St. Damien of Molokai, who spent his life ministering to people with Hansen's disease in Hawaii.
-- Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit scholar who devoted much of his time to the Pimas in southern Arizona.
-- Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary who was part of an expedition along the Mississippi River and brought the Gospel to Native Americans in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the region.
 
Timothy Meagher is an associate professor at The Catholic University of America, archivist and the curator of the American Catholic History Collections at the university. He said the fact that states chose these influential Catholics to represent their states speaks to the diversity of America's founding and how it didn't involve just men such as John Winthrop, the famed leader of the Puritans.
 
"The statues testify in some ways that we think of the country as being founded by the pilgrims, but these Catholics testify to the multiple origins of this country," Meagher said in an interview with CNS July 6.
 
He spoke about the French Catholics who explored along the Mississippi and the Spanish Catholics with strong roles in the West.
 
"The statues are recognition from those states of their influence," Meagher said.
 
Images of crucifixes and religious orders are scattered throughout the artwork within the U.S. Capitol. Carvings on the front doors depict the life of Christopher Columbus, accompanied by Franciscans with rosaries hanging from their waists. As well as paintings in the Rotunda, such as the engraving "The Discovery of the Mississippi" by Johnson, Fry & Co., which illustrates Hernando de Soto standing at the Mississippi River, with priests in the foreground, praying and placing a crucifix in the ground.
 
"We are truly blessed to live in a country that not only respects God, but has chiseled that respect in stone, inscribed it on walls, pieced it together in mosaics and painted it on canvases so that American generations that will never forget their religious heritage," Father Hemrick wrote to close his book.
 
 
  • Published in Nation

March for Life

Tens of thousands of pro-lifers filled the grounds near the Washington Monument and marched up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 27 as both a protest of legalized abortion and a celebration of successful pro-life efforts across the country.
 
In years past, the March for Life -- which takes place on or near Jan. 22 to mark the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion virtually on demand -- has been almost a battle cry for the uphill and constant fight faced by those in the pro-life movement hoping for more abortion restrictions and ultimately an end to abortion.
 
This year's March for Life, under mostly sunny skies and 40-degree temperatures, was decidedly more upbeat, in part because one of the first speakers was Vice President Mike Pence; this was the first time a vice president attended the rally.
 
Pence, who has marched at the event before as a participant and addressed it as a congressman, repeatedly told the crowd -- huddled together in winter coats and hats in front of the stage -- that "life is winning" and assured them the Trump administration was behind them.
 
Kellyanne Conway, special adviser to Trump, and the first on the speakers' list to address the group -- holding aloft placards but none of the usual giant banners, which were banned for security reasons -- similarly got plenty of cheers when she said: "This is a new day, a new dawn for life."
 
The scheduled presence of the vice president, only announced the day before, required the rally perimeter to be fenced in and the crowd to enter through long lines that had formed at security checks.
 
Participants seemed unfazed by the required wait, taking it in stride with the day. Some pulled out their pre-packed lunches and started eating, others prayed the rosary. These marchers are used to plenty of hardships from weather conditions alone at the annual march.
 
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, noted that the group has been marching in all types of bad weather over the years. She also pointed out that amid recent discussion about crowd size at events in Washington, it was hard to measure the number of people that day or for the total who have come out for the annual march over the past four decades. "The only number we care about is the 58 million" lost to abortion since it was legalized, she said.
 
As in years past, the crowd was primarily young, with a lot of high school and college-age groups. It was something the speakers took note of, saying this generation would not only keep the pro-life movement going but bring about changes.
 
Mary Ann Vann, a retiree who made the trip from Trussville, Ala., for her sixth march, said the most exciting thing for her each time she has taken part is seeing the young people.
 
Vann, a parishioner at Holy Infant of Prague Parish in Trussville, said she hoped the energy at the march could be channeled into everyday support for the pro-life movement, something she is involved with on a regular basis with sidewalk counseling, volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers and helping young mothers with basic needs. She also said she is disheartened by hearing those who say pro-lifers are only concerned about babies because she and her fellow volunteers not only bring pregnant women to their doctor's appointments but also help pay their medical costs.
 
Jim Klarsch, a member of St. Clement Parish in St. Louis, who came with a busload of eighth-graders, also is involved with pro-life work with the Knights of Columbus at his parish. In Washington on his second march, he said the experience was "empowering."
 
Standing alongside Constitution Avenue waiting for the march to begin, he said the crowd, which was already filling the street to each side and behind him as far as the eye could see, reinforced his feeling that "this is not just a day but a lifelong mission."
 
Many of the march signs were pre-made placards with messages such as "I am pro abundant life" or "Defund Planned Parenthood" and "I am the pro-life generation."
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Sanctuary of the womb

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

"Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother's womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?" he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb "a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother's tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity."

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States -- first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but "clinging within to that 'pearl of great price,' their faith," and today's immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, "should it shock us" that "such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth's environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers," Cardinal Dolan lamented.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

The faithful were squeezed more tightly than usual as pews in the left transept were blocked off so work crews could continue work on the shrine's Trinity Dome, which should be completed by next year's March for Life. The blockage resulted in the loss of "several hundred" seats, according to shrine spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington received hearty applause when he announced near the end of the Mass that the starting times for three pre-March for Life Masses elsewhere in Washington the next morning would be moved up an hour to allow for longer lines in security checkpoints at the pre-march rally, as among those speaking at it now included "senior White House officials and a special guest." No name was mentioned, but earlier in the day it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would address the March for Life rally in person. After a lineup of speakers, rally participants then march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court. 

The weather changed overnight from the low 50s at the start of the Jan. 26 Mass to a more typical near-freezing temperature with stiff winds before a Jan. 27 morning Mass at the shrine celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary.

Archbishop Aymond's homily sounded a similar theme to Cardinal Dolan's in terms how acceptance of abortion is "used to justify" other disrespect for life at various stages, citing assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and the rejection of immigrants. Quoting from that day's Gospel, Archbishop Aymond said, "Jesus says, 'Let them come to me, let them come to me.'"

He received applause from a Mass attendance estimated at 3,500 when he cited the results of a recent study that showed "the abortion rate in the United States has hit a historic low since Roe v. Wade." Archbishop Aymond said the study speculated on various reasons for the decline, but "one was not" mention.

That reason was "the witness of so many people for life," he said. "Youth and young adults are strongly pro-life in our world and in our church," he added to applause. "You are making a difference in the United States. You are changing our culture from a culture of death into a culture of life," the archbishop said to still more applause.

During the March for Life, and afterward in the marchers' parishes and neighborhoods, Archbishop Aymond said, "we will continue to witness, and with God's help, we will continue to be strong voices for the respect and the dignity of human life."
  • Published in Nation

March for Life planned in Washington

The annual March for Life will take place Jan. 22 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

In concert with the annual March for Life, the U.S. bishops invite all Catholics to pray for the protection of all human life by participating in a special novena called 9 Days for Life, from Jan. 16-24. Join thousands of others in praying for the protection of all human life. Download the novena online, or participate through Facebook, e-mail, text message or an app. Join at www.9daysforlife.com.

More information about all the March for Life events is available at www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/january-roe-events/index.cfm.

There will be no Diocese of Burlington-sponsored bus to Washington, D.C., this year for the annual March for Life. It is hoped there will be one next year.

 
  • Published in Nation
Subscribe to this RSS feed
Bishop's Fund Annual Appeal