Marian shrine a ‘sign of hope’

Kingstree — The wind and rain couldn’t dampen the prayerful enthusiasm of more than 300 people who gathered Oct. 8 for the inauguration of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina — Our Lady of Joyful Hope.

The ceremony took place along with the annual diocesan Rosary Celebration. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker. The homily was given by special guest Jesuit Father Mitchell Pacwa, a popular host from Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic cable channel based in Alabama.

The ceremony was held under a tent set up behind the renovated former church which holds the shrine. The small wooden building was formerly the parish church for Kingstree and is located on a central street in the Williamsburg County town.

Bishop Baker reminded the crowd that popes have dealt with rain during important occasions, and joked that the devil was trying to disrupt the ceremony, “but the power of the Virgin Mary” would keep the bad weather at bay.

Before Mass started, the crowd took part in special prayers for the ministry of the shrine with five decades of the luminous mysteries of the rosary being meditatively prayed.

Bishop Baker renewed his original act of consecration of the diocese to Mary. A statue of Mary is being carved in Vietnam and will eventually be housed in a grotto on the shrine’s grounds. The statue is being donated by David and Margaret Stenglein of Roswell, Ga., who were in attendance.

Father Stanley Smolenski, director of the shrine, talked about the increasing significance of shrines to Catholics in Europe. He reflected on the shrine’s location in Williamsburg County, one of the largest and poorest counties in the state, and a county with only 45 Catholic households and one Catholic-owned business.

He told the crowd about the part Kingstree played in his own vocation. Two priests who served there, Father Patrick Quinlan and Father Patrick Walsh, played significant roles in Catholic evangelization in rural South Carolina. This was part of the reason why the small town, with a population of about 3,800, was selected as the shrine’s home.

“Hopefully what might seem to some to be an insignificant place on the map will, through this shrine, become a significant place for the Catholic faith,” Father Smolenski said.

He also said Sunday’s ceremony was the fulfillment of a longtime dream he has had — to work with a shrine. He said that when he was a child, he put a statue of Mary in a mountain cave near his home in Connecticut and prayed that there would someday be a shrine on that mountain.

“I finally have that shrine here in Kingstree,” he said.

In his homily, Father Pacwa focused largely on the idea of Mary as the “new Eve” for the church on earth. He spoke of how her experiences as the mother of Jesus paralleled many of the experiences of Eve as described in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. He said both women went through painful experiences that at the same time offered a ray of hope for God’s salvation in the future.

Hope, he said, as embodied in the icon of Our Lady of Joyful Hope, is a crucial element in the spiritual life of human beings.

“Without hope human beings begin to be aimless in living life, because they have nothing to look forward to,” he said. “…What the Lord has done in conceiving Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary is to make it possible for the defeat of the serpent, of evil. The hope for salvation comes to fruition in her womb.”

Father Pacwa also talked about philosophies of “false optimism,” such as communism and nationalism, that have led to evil and destruction because they place their trust in humanity and not in God.

“Our Lady is a sign of hope and this shrine is a sign of that hope,” he said. “This shrine is going to be a great sign to everyone that we have a great hope to share with everyone, the hope of Jesus Christ shown through the figure of his mother.”

The day was a very fulfilling one for Elaine Colbert, a member of St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville. Colbert has been an enthusiastic supporter of the shrine and the icon since it was first created in 2003, and was one of the first people to make a pilgrimage to Kingstree after the icon arrived there. She attended Sunday’s celebration with several of her fellow parishioners.

“It was just wonderful for me to be here today for this service,” Colbert said. “As soon as I first heard there was going to be a shrine here in Kingstree, I told my friends ‘we’re going,’ and here we are again. It’s a very special thing that this shrine is here in this place.”