October 12, 2012
A Place to Honor Mary (Read More)
Forty-two years in the making, a Marian shrine in Zambia has become a place for spiritual renewal and forgiveness.
You could say it was perfect timing. In 1969, Marianist Father Anthony Jansen arrived in Zambia, a country in southern Africa. He had been called to serve as a chaplain at Matero Boys Secondary School, a Marianist sponsored school in Lusaka, the capital.
That same year, the Archbishop of Lusaka began soliciting people to help build a permanent Marian shrine for the archdiocese. Father Anthony and a handful of others embraced the challenge — one that began a 42-year journey.
This summer, with the consecration of a permanent structure, the journey was completed. Along the way, they galvanized the support of local parishes and nurtured a devotional and pilgrimage tradition that has enriched the faith of families and the lives of those who gave so much to this effort.
In Mary’s presence
Marian devotion runs deep in the archdiocese. Father Anthony explains, “For many years, the practice was to make a pilgrimage on the Feast of the Assumption — with one parish hosting all the others on a rotating basis. The archbishop had purchased a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and commissioned us to find a suitable place for a permanent shrine.”
Father Anthony teamed with a Jesuit priest, Father Lawrence Tomasin, SJ, to choose a site in Chelston (about 12 miles from Lusaka) and began work in the early 1970s.
They included other religious and lay people in the project who were responsible for planning and hosting pilgrimages each month. This was the key to its success, says Father Anthony. When they enlisted the support of local parishes that provided instruction on how to appreciate the shrine as a time for reconciliation among families, the power of this sacred event was evident.
“It was an honor to see young and old, husbands and wives, involved in the sacrament of reconciliation — using this pilgrimage to heal their relationships and strengthen their faith in Christ through Mary. This was the most significant value of these pilgrimages,” says Father Anthony.
Participation in the pilgrimages continues to grow. “Most months, you’ll see hundreds of people at the shrine,” says Father Anthony, “and for the Feast of the Assumption each August, pilgrims typically number in the thousands.”
Where we belonged
Over the years many improvements have been made to the site to accommodate the monthly celebrations, including a steel pavilion, stations of the cross and more recently, a permanent church building.
Having moved back to the United States in 2010 after 41 years in Lusaka, Father Anthony wasn’t among the 8,000 people on hand for the dedication. But he has no regrets: “I am happy to have been involved in such a great undertaking,” he says. “As a Marianist, I believed this is where we belonged, closely associated with a project to honor the place of Mary in the lives of ordinary Catholics.”