"Jesus is the reason for the season." How many times have we heard this saying and and wondered where Jesus is among all the twinkling lights, merry tunes, and bustling shoppers rushing home with their treasures? Community and civic light displays are everywhere, but where is Jesus?
Twenty-five years ago, these same questions provoked a response from the shrine director at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston, in the form of a Christ-centered Festival of Lights. Barnabite Father Julio Ciavaglia, CRSP, working from the Parable Studios located on the grounds of Fatima Shrine, began designing a series of lighted features to help celebrate the spiritual nature of the Christmas holy days. The first display was a 9-foot tall outdoor Nativity scene, featuring a 14-foot tall camel and a Gloria Angel hovering 20 feet above the Holy Family.
As the shrine grew over the years, so did the Festival of Lights. Each year new features were added such as lighted liturgical symbols, a Jesse Tree, a life-size Fontanini Nativity scene displayed in the dome basilica, illuminated panels featuring the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary, and much more. Many of these features were inspired by proclamations of popes such as St. John Paul II who designated special yearly themes.
This year's new feature was inspired in this very manner, as Pope Francis has proclaimed an extraordinary jubilee year, opening Dec. 8, the Year of Mercy.
"Mercy is the beating heart of the Gospel," Pope Francis said.
What better way to depict that image than with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and what better time of the year than when we celebrate His birth?
Over the last 25 years, the shrine has hosted over a quarter million visitors to the Festival of Lights, with many coming from all across New York State, Southern Ontario, Canada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and from different parts of the world. The Festival of Lights is on display every evening through Jan. 6 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Visitors to the shrine have commented that they can feel the Spirit of Christmas after viewing the lights at Our Lady's Shrine. It was the hope of the Barnabite Fathers that everyone visiting Our Lady's Shrine would carry this Spirit of Christmas home to their families and friends, and truly celebrate what great gift the world has been given in Jesus Christ.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16