By Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI, Director, National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows
There was a popular motel chain that used to end all its commercials with the phrase, “We’ll leave the lights on for you,” implying that after a long day of travel or work the customer should not walk into a dark room, that everyone should be greeted with light. Light is a sign of arriving, of being home, of safety and security.
Since 1970, the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois has welcomed pilgrims and visitors from across state lines to the annual Way of Lights. This event is more than just a light display. It is a proclamation of the Gospel through lights.
Through the nearly two-mile drive, visitors are inspired by the presentation of the Gospel announcement of the birth of the Messiah through colorful light sculptures of angels, shepherds, candles, stars and even the town of Bethlehem during their journey through the lights. The journey culminates in the announcement of the birth of Jesus at the stable in Bethlehem housed at the Lourdes Grotto.
Often at the Grotto, visitors take the time to get out of their cars and light a candle, take a picture with the life-sized Holy family, say a prayer and ask for a blessing the Oblate on duty for their family, vehicles, even their pets. Families both young and old make the Way of Lights a family tradition.
St. Eugene de Mazenod charged the oblates to leave nothing un-dared for the Gospel. There are many light displays in the area, yet only the Shrine tells the story of the birth of the “Light of the world:” Jesus Christ, to everyone who drives into the Shrine grounds, to enjoy and be inspired by the Way of the lights.
The outdoor light display is free and open to the public nightly from 5-9 pm now through December 31st.
Below is a 4 minute video tour of the Way of Lights showing the various activities including the petting zoo, camel rides, horse-drawn carriage rides, Lego display, Christmas Tree room, wreath display and much more