Just one week after opening the 54th annual Way of Lights event at the Shrine, the Oblates are busy fulfilling the commandment of Jesus “You are the light of the world… In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mt 15:14,16
The Way of Lights is more than just an event that attracts visitors to the Shrine; it is an extended non-itinerant mission, as our founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, called the ministry of Marian Shrines.
There is a reason why Jesus claimed to be The Light of the World. The world was in darkness, and people were living politically and socially difficult moments. Our world today in 2023 is no different. People experience darkness in so many ways; people are dealing with financial difficulties, health problems, addictions, and a sense of hopelessness because of the deep political and religious divides that make their way into their homes. Indeed, the many senseless wars being fought bring about much darkness in our world.
People come to the Shrine to experience light. They are searching for light that brings joy and hope. The 1.5 million lights do a great job of bringing joy to visitors who drive the beautiful Shrine grounds. There is yet another source of light at the Shrine that gives visitors hope and fulfillment: the presence of Missionary Oblates. Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world”; the presence of Oblates at the Shrine Visitor Center and donation hut fulfills these words of Jesus at our Shrine.
In the first week of the Way of Lights, I have seen Oblates greet visitors many times by name. I have witnessed Oblates bless the religious items bought at the gift shop and offer prayers for the people using the religious articles. Many times, things are purchased for people who are dealing with complex issues or who are celebrating important events like Baptism or weddings. The Oblates not only bless the items, but they also offer prayers for the people being remembered. We recently had the annual visit by Mr. Emanuele Fontanini, president of the famous Fontanini Christmas Creches and figurines. Many people bring their nativity sets and have them blessed by an Oblate and then signed by Mr. Fontanini.
Pope Francis recently asked priests to be available to people even if it’s “outside office hours,” especially for confessions. People have asked for the Sacrament of Reconciliation while visiting the lights, and they leave renewed and filled with the light of God’s mercy. Oblates have heard confessions at the Visitor’s Center and on the sidewalk past the donation hut.
The donation hut at the end of the lights also brings many ministry opportunities. It is brutally cold outside, but it’s a moment that we Oblates can meet and greet 400-500 cars of people a night. Recently, while working the donation hut, I met a woman who brought her elderly mother who was in her final days of life; the woman stopped and told me that her mother was dying, and she wanted to come to see the lights; she asked if we could remember her mother in our prayers. I said of course, and we said a prayer of blessing over the dying woman right there and the prayer brought a smile to both women.
Light cannot be anything other than what it is. It’s bright; it dispels darkness; it enables people to see where they are and how they live. God is light, and since He sent His Holy Spirit to live inside believers, so are we. As Pilgrims of Hope In Communion, Oblate ministry shines even when we don’t know it.