More Than Just Lights

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In the summer the fresh sound of the fountains of the Rosary
Pond give a calming effect to a tour of the National Shrine
(photo: Becky Arbut)
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — A man quietly sits in the Chapel of Light, head bowed while praying with a Rosary in his hand. Frogs call to each other as the fountains in the Rosary Pond add the soothing sound of rushing water to the picturesque scene. Best known for its Festival of Lights at Christmas time, the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro is open year-round to offer more than just a celebration of lights — the shrine offers respite for those looking for personal reflection, solitude and prayer.

“This is one of the best-kept secrets in Attleboro,” said Brother David Eubank, MS. “People tell me that they come to this property and they’re in such turmoil; then they come to the property and it’s almost like coming home. They leave in total serenity; just to be around and sense the presence of the Blessed Mother, Jesus and the Eternal Father in all His glory.”

 

Walkers take advantage of the nature trail, while families will often gather in the evening to look at the fish, frogs and turtles found in the Rosary Pond. Many individuals will start his or her day saying the Rosary before Mass, or light a candle in memory of a loved one.

“It’s a spiritual atmosphere and really easy-going,” said Mary Fernandes. “Some people come in to soak it in; they come here and everything is released off their shoulders. It’s like a different world here. You can let everything go. We have people come regularly here, just for that reason.”
Fernandes has been manning the welcome desk at the Shrine since 2003, and 10 years later she still relishes the peaceful atmosphere the shrine provides to those faith-filled individuals looking to find harmony in a difficult world.

“It’s sad because a lot of people don’t realize that it’s here,” said Fernandes. “Once they do and they’ve come, it seems like they can’t wait to come back. Even when I drive in here, I feel a load off my shoulders.”

Bea England, a visitor from Rhode Island and parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Woonsocket, had not been to the shrine in a while because of gas prices, but “today is a getaway day,” she said, as she admired a large bullfrog relaxing amid the cattails of the Rosary Pond.

England said she was ready for a peaceful day of prayer and solitude, enjoying the time of year when there are less people at the shrine. Having turned off her cell phone, England said she knows she isn’t the first person embracing some quiet time with the Lord.

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The Shrine Church is used constantly by
pilgrims coming to pray, reflect and celebrate
the wonderful gifts of the Lord
(photo: Becky Arbut)
“These are holy grounds. There’s no question about that. You can’t begin to even imagine the amount of healing, prayers, tears, broken hearts — all that has gone on here. Some of [the stories], people don’t talk to anyone so no one really knows,” said England. “There’s a lot of praying. A lot of people recognize it as holy grounds. For those who don’t, when they come here and pour out their hearts, they find out.”

The grounds are not the only holy offerings at the shrine. Brother David is in his third year at the shrine, and is ready to share his passion with visitors — a large collection of first-, second- and third-class relics of saints.

His collection started with his patron saint, St. Marguerite d’Youville; the first Canadian saint who founded the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, commonly known as the Grey Nuns of Montreal: “I’ve been associated with the Grey Nuns for 24 years,” said Brother David.

He was given a relic of St. Marguerite, received a second relic of St. Jean-Baptist de La Salle, and Brother David has been collecting relics ever since. In 2010 he took his final vows, the same year that St. André Bessette was canonized and was given a relic of the saint. When working in youth ministry, Brother David continued to receive relics from those saints associated with youth ministry.

Two relics of note in his collection, said Brother David, are from St. Theresa of Avila, patron saint of headache sufferers and St. Peregrine Laziosi, patron saint of those suffering from cancer.

“We get many people who are cancer patients who come here. Any relics that I have that pertain to an illness a person has, a person can come here for prayer. They can visit the relics anytime; they just have to call me ahead of time,” said Brother David.

In the meantime, Brother David is working hard on a display for the relics that will be shown during this year’s Festival of Lights. The shrine is also gearing up to host large groups for their annual pilgrimages to the shrine — a recent Vietnamese pilgrimage saw nearly 3,000 people attend — as well as supporting the regular healing Masses held at the shrine. September is the Shrine’s feast month; starting September 19 the shrine will host a three-day celebration.

“It’s very busy at Christmas time,” said Fernandes, of the Shrine’s peak time for visitors, “but when people who come here [now], and have only been here at Christmas time, they look around and see how peaceful it is. It’s so different. I know the lights are a big thing, but they’re not the most important thing. It’s what you get from being here, that feeling which has no words to describe it.”

 

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(from left) Procession during Vietnamese Pilgrimage with 3,000 people in July, 2013;
Conference during Spanish Pilgrimage in our Welcome Center in August