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The Cross in the Woods Shrine in Indian River was recently named a national shrine by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Following review of the petition and a visit to the site last summer, the Administrative Committee of the USCCB, on the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Shrines, approved the granting of the designation "National Catholic Shrine" on Sept. 15.

In 1992, the USCCB approved Norms Regarding the Designation of Shrines as National Shrines, which require that diocesan shrines seeking this honor reflect Church teaching as well as meet other administrative criteria. All shrines must be devoted to a saint or a mystery of the Catholic faith.

by L. Scott Swanson, Editor Straitsland Resorter

Father Donard Paulus, OFM, pastor of Cross in the Woods from 1989 to 2000 and shrine director until his retirement said, "Three qualities are required of a national shrine: the primary mission must be the imparting and celebration of Catholic faith, the shrine should be a center for worthy and exemplary celebrations of the liturgy, especially Eucharist and penance, and it should be easily [handicapped] accessible, with appropriate facilities for pilgrims."

Father Paulus, who was instrumental in petitioning the USCCB for national shrine status said, "I found out about the chance to become a national shrine when I joined the National Association of Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate ((NASPA) and began attending their yearly conventions. Directors of Catholic shrines from Oregon to New York and Florida to California attend."

In 1946, Bishop Francis J. Haas of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, established the new parish in Indian River. While only a handful of Catholic families resided year-round, there were a large number of Catholics who lived and vacationed in the area from April to October. The original church, built in the Native American "long house" style, was designed by Alden B. Dow and constructed to overlook the wooded land that lay beside it.

The founding pastor, Reverend Charles D. Brophy, envisioned a huge wooden cross for the outdoor sanctuary to inspire fidelity to the crucified Christ. It was Fr. Brophy's devotion to blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Christian member of the Algonquin and Mohawk Indian nations who fashioned crosses from sticks and placed them through the woods, that influenced his pursuit of the project.

In 1954, a cross made from giant redwood measuring 55-feet tall and 22-feet wide was erected, and a seven-ton bronze corpus of Jesus Christ, created by sculptor Marshall M. Fredericks, was placed on the cross and dedicated in August 1959. The huge crucifix rests atop a hill, which is ascended by the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) each containing a first class relic. During the summer months, Mass is offered at the foot of the crucifix, which has become the centerpiece of the shrine.

The uniquely Cristo-centric dimension of the shrine provided by the monumental crucifix is today complemented by six secondary shrines that offer quiet space for prayer and reflection: the Resurrection Garden and Way of the Cross; the Shrine of Our Lady of the Highway; the Shrine of St. Peregrine, patron of those suffering from cancer and HIV/AIDS; the Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the patron of the shrine; the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi and a Meditation Walk based on Canticle of the Creatures of St. Francis of Assisi.

Monsignor James P. Moroney, Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat for the Liturgy stated," Every year I visit shrines around the county on behalf of the ad hoc committee to assist them with their petitions. I can honestly say that I have never been more impressed than when I visited the shrine of the Cross of the Woods at Indian River." He continued, "I was affected by the wonderful pastoral and liturgical status of the church and the ministry of the Franciscans who work there . . . I was also deeply touched by the people, their social service presence-being Jesus on the cross for their neighbors, both far and near."

The Shrine at Indian River is located in an area with a significant tourist population. It hosts pilgrimages from groups from throughout the United States as well as internationally. During the tourist season, Mass is celebrated twice daily and three times on Sunday. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available 24 hours a day. The Anointing of the Sick is celebrated daily and the Stations of the Cross are prayed weekly.

Annually, between 275,000 and 325,000 people visit the Cross in the Woods Shrine. Msgr. Moroney noted, "The Shrine is unique in that it is a pilgrimage site not only for Catholics, but for people of many faiths around the country and around the world." It has been estimated that approximately 40 percent of pilgrims are non-Catholic.

When Father Donard became the pastor and director of the Shrine, he had called on the parishioners to take a more active roll. Today about 50 members of all ages and walks of life have assumed the primary role of hospitality. They serve as liturgical minister, choir members and act as greeters for buses and those on pilgrimage.

The parish mission statement reads, "We, the parishioners of the Cross in the Woods shrine-parish, open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are dedicated to preserve, live and proclaim the Good News. As a sacramental people we are committed to welcome all into Christ's presence among us. Our ministry is one of evangelizing, hospitality, and providing an atmosphere of reverence and peace."

There are approximately 120 national Catholic shrines in the United states. There is only one other in the State of Michigan-the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak.

Msgr. Moroney concluded, "When I described to the bishops my visit and experience at the Cross in the Woods, there was no reservation on their part that the designation of National Shrine was appropriate." The Cross in the Woods Shrine was the only site designated a National Catholic Shrine by the Bishops in 2004.

The Cross in the Woods Shrine is open 365 days a year. For more information or to schedule a group pilgrimage, visit their website at

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