When my daughter and I turned the corner and entered the Garden of Gethsemane, I knew we were about to experience something remarkable.
Haunting music played, and there slumped St. Peter, his sword loosely grasped by fingers grown slack in sleep.
A few feet away, St. John lay among the grasses, and, further on, St. James, also asleep, lay stretched out on a flat stone.
Around another corner, Jesus knelt, hands clasped fervently, amid his desperate plea to be spared the agony that awaited him.
We withdrew in silence, walking past the sleeping apostles, and proceeded to the next station, where Pontius Pilate washed his hands in a basin, and Jesus, condemned to die, looked on placidly. An inscription carved in the stone portico above Pilate read: Innocens ego sum a sanguine iusti huius (I am innocent of the blood of this just man).
These are just two of the life-size outdoor scenes at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Ind., an interactive journey with Our Lord on his Way of the Cross.
Sculptor Mickey Wells of Amarillo, Texas, created 40 bronze statues that make up 17 tableaus, most of which Catholics will recognize as scenes from the Stations of the Cross. There are also four additional scenes along the half-mile trail: In addition to the Garden of Gethsemane, there is the Last Supper and the meeting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection, as well as the Ascension at the end.
The audio commentary available at each station is notable for its spiritual power. At the Fourth Station, "Jesus Accepts His Cross," pilgrims hear: "Christ stands silent, and the anger of humanity rages around him. He pulls the cross to himself. He covers himself with our sin." At the Fifth Station, "Jesus Falls the First Time," listeners are told, "The weight of the cross increases with every sin we refuse to forsake."
The Crucifixion and Ascension scenes also include beautiful songs.
My daughter and I arrived at the Ascension station with a tour group, and many of us who knew Servant Song from church spontaneously sang along, caught up in the camaraderie of a group that has made a moving journey together.
My teenage daughter hadn’t exactly jumped for joy when I told her we were going to spend her Columbus Day school holiday at a religious shrine in northwest Indiana, but the grace of a true pilgrimage was there right from the beginning: As we were leaving the Garden of Gethsemane station, my daughter whispered to me, "Mom, this is really cool."
The serene outdoor setting, the realistic statuary, the gentle music and the powerful audio reflections at each station won her over, proving the power of Beauty to move hearts and stir souls to great devotion — anytime of year, but especially during Lent, Holy Week or Easter.
Clare Walker writes from
Shrine of Christ’s Passion
The shrine is in the northwest corner of Indiana, about an hour’s drive south of Chicago at the Illinois-Indiana border. From the Chicago area, take Interstate 94 East; and from northwest Indiana, take Interstate 80/94 West. Exit onto U.S. 41 South, which merges into Indianapolis Boulevard. When you reach St. John, Indianapolis Boulevard becomes Wicker Avenue, and the entrance to the shrine is to the west, just north of U.S. Route 231.
From the south, take Interstate 65 North and exit onto IN-231 to Crown Point. Continue to follow IN-231 as it winds through Crown Point, and then turn right (north) on Wicker Avenue. The entrance to the shrine is two blocks on your left.
Note that GPS devices may provide directions that differ from those given above.
For hotels in nearby Schererville, Ind., see the shrine’s website.
Planning Your Visit
The shrine, including the visitor center and gift shop, is open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm. Extended hours are sometimes offered around major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but call ahead to confirm.
The entire shrine is handicap accessible, via a wide, poured-concrete walkway on mostly level ground, but volunteers are available to drive a cart or trolley for individuals or groups with limited mobility. The volunteers will also provide a guided tour with commentary. Call ahead, however, to ensure that these amenities will be available when you arrive. A shaded shelter and water station mark the halfway point of the half-mile walk.
Plan to spend some time in the shrine’s lovely gift shop: The selection of books, music and gifts is extensive, and even the artwork above the cash register is inspiring.
Light refreshments and self-serve coffee are available in the gift shop, and there is a good mix of independent and chain restaurants on Wicker Avenue.
Consider attending Mass as part of your pilgrimage: Immediately behind the shrine to the west is the south campus of St. John the Evangelist parish. Weekend liturgies are at 5pm Saturday and 7:30, 9:30 and 11:30am Sunday, and a daily Mass is offered at 6:30pm on Tuesday. The street address of the church is 10701 Olcott Ave., but it is easily accessible on foot from the shrine’s western border.
During the school year, daily Mass is offered on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8:30am in the day chapel on the parish’s north campus a few blocks away at the intersection of Wicker and 93rd. Mass is not available on Monday or school holidays. The north campus also houses a 24-hour adoration chapel. From the shrine, turn left onto Wicker and head north to 93rd. Phone the parish office to confirm Mass times at (219) 365-5678.