This past Saturday I found myself, at the end of an industry conference, in Bloomington, Minnesota. Since this was about as close to La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe located there as I thought myself ever likely to be, I rented a car and drove the two and a half hours on down through the lovely fall countryside of those two states.
Very glad I did. It was a profound spiritual experience. First, some pictures and descriptions.
The church is located on a hillside overlooking a forested valley with farms on the flats. The picture above is about what it looked like the day I arrived – fall has begun to color the trees.
It’s a 15 minute walk from the parking lot up the hill to the church, through the visitor center. Here are some pictures of what that looks like:
At the top of the path:
The walk was very peaceful and settling and beautiful. When I went inside, Adoration was being held, and a Franciscan priest was leading a rosary while another heard confessions.
I was not comfortable taking pictures under those circumstances, as you can well imagine. (Generally don’t like taking pictures in churches unless I can do it very unobtrusively, which means an empty or near empty building). It seems the shrine must guard their pictures well, as searching the web turns up no decent pictures of the art on the side altars. Several of the paintings brought me to tears. Here is a description from their website, although the reproductions are tiny and one cannot enlarge them.
There are 6 side altars, 5 with recent saints – Sts. Faustina, Maria Goretti, Gianna Molla, Miguel Pro, Therese of Lisieux and Theophane Venard (a vietnamese martyr) – and one dedicated to St. Peregrine Laziosi, a patron of those suffering from cancer.
On Saturday, I had maybe an hour and a half before closing, and half of that was taken with a visit to the gift shop and the walk up the hill. I knew that on Sunday, I’d need to leave promptly after the 9:30 EF Mass to catch my plane home, so I spent my time Saturday looking around. That’s when I looked at the paintings and broke down.
This is the ultimate ‘you had to be there’ moment, as I can’t even show you good pictures, but here goes: when we have gone down to Mexico to build houses for the families in La Marita, we have mass in a chapel dedicated to Bl. Miguel Pro. He was martyred by the Mexican government 1927 for being a priest (they’d trumped up other charges that nobody took seriously) only 2 years after being ordained. When they lead him before the firing squad, he threw out his arms and declared ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ – long live Christ the King! – and they shot him.
The painting shows him the moment before being shot, with two Mexican children at his side, dressed in white with red sashes around their waists, a boy holding a red martyr’s crown of thorns and a girl with a laurel wreath of victory. Above, he is seen from behind saying Mass in heaven, at the point of the Elevation,wearing a vestment with the Guadalupana on the back, as Mary looks down from above.
That just got me – a handsome young man, knowing he’d likely end up dead, saying Mass in Mexico under the evil government (which still runs the place, BTW) that had strung up, shot or otherwise disposed of many other priests and the faithful who tried to protect them. All within living memory!
The St. Gianna Molla painting was also moving. She stands in a lab coat (she was a pediatrician) surrounded by children and holding a baby. She chose her own death so that her child could live.
After those two paintings, I had to pause to get something out of my eyes for several minutes.
St. Maria Goretti was portrayed in the vision of the man who killed her, handing him 14 white lilies, one each for each time he stabbed her. He is shown chained at the ankles in a circle of light, while Maria is at Our Lady’s side above. Side note: it seems people don’t get that Maria died trying to prevent her murderer from sinning – preserving her own virginity was not what she was saying when he killed her. She did not want him to sin – “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” – she died trying to save his soul. Then she saved it anyway through his vision.
On Sunday, managed to go to Confession, receive Communion and exit through the Mercy Doors. Yea, plenary indulgences. Also got to light a candle at the altar of St. Peregrine for my sister Catherine, who is battling cancer now. Please say a prayer for her and her family, that they all be comforted and healed in mind, body and soul.
Had to leave after Communion – hated to, I always stay through the end of Mass, but had a plane to catch and 2 1/2 hours to drive to get to it.
The Shrine is highly reccommended. Very beautiful and moving. I hardly got to see the stuff outside – there’s a Rosary walk and (I think) a way of the Cross, but I didn’t get to see them.
I would love to go back. Don’t have any customers or relatives out that away, so I made need to make a special trip again – I longe to go on pilgrimages.