We're about to enter the final week of Lent. This is traditionally the time of the year where Catholics attend Stations of the Cross to meditate on Christ's crucifixion, particularly on Good Friday. As for me, I've been to several events over Lent that depict the Crucifixion of Jesus, but only one of them really took me a journey to follow along and see it up close and personal. This event was a visit to the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana.
People from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to St. John, but since the site is only an hour drive from Chicago, it's a very appropriate and timely topic for a Chicago Catholic Examiner column. What is the Shrine? Simply put, it's an interactive half-mile winding pathway that lets visitors follow the steps that Jesus took in the last days of his life, starting with the Last Supper and ending with his ascension into heaven. The biggest part of the tour is the Stations of the Cross, where you can see Christ's passion right in front of you.
The Shrine of Christ's Passion accomplishes this by depicting each event with life size bronze statues. There are 40 of them, and each area has a listening station where visitors can push a button to hear veteran broadcaster Bill Kurtis narrate what occurred at the scene. As pilgrims journey from area to area, background music plays throughout the pathway on 180 different speakers. The music starts off gently, but changes and increases in intensity as you get closer to the point of Jesus' death on the cross. To add to the realistic effect, the entire area has been transformed to look like Holy Land. Since the Midwestern United States has very little in common with the geography of the Middle East, the changes are drastic. Over 1000 trees and bushes were planted in the shrine, more than 3000 yards of stamped concrete were poured, and over 80 semis of boulders were trucked in to recreate the rocky terrain of Judea 2000 years ago. I visited the Shrine on a cold day last week, but many pilgrims out to go during the summer time on a hot 90 degree day, so they can actually feel what the climate was like when Jesus took up the cross.
Construction on the site began in 2001, and the Shrine was first opened to visitors in 2008. During Good Friday each year, they get hundreds of visitors, but the Shrine is open year long from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. There are over 50 volunteers on staff for tour assistance, as well as parking for 75 cars and 8 tour buses. While visitors are waiting for a tour guide, the Shrine treats visitors to an amazing two story gift shop filled with Christian items, including an art gallery and cafe. The Shrine is also now the permanent home of Our Lady of the New Millennium statue. This image of the Virgin Mary was completed in 1999 and stands 33 feet tall, made from stainless steel. The Shrine also plans to add additional bronze statues in the future depicting other biblical events like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, but the time table for that depends on how generous visitors are with free will donations, since the Shrine is free to visit and entirely funded by sales from their gift shop and donations from the public.
You can see a selection of pictures I took at the Shrine in this column's photo gallery. I would urge my readers to plan for a time when you, your family, and your friends can also make a trip out to St. John to see the Shrine in person. It is well worth your time.
The Shrine of Christ's Passion
Address: 10630 Wicker Ave, St John, IN 46373
Phone: (219) 365-6010
Hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm