CRETE (SNR) - As the international Schoenstatt Movement prepares for its 100th anniversary in 2014, there is just so much to be thankful for that the worldwide Schoenstatt family determined that three years were needed to celebrate the community’s founder, the shrine, and the graces they have received from the Blessed Mother.
On October 17 in Crete at Nebraska’s own Schoenstatt Shrine, a celebration of the Holy Mass will mark the end of the Year of the Father and the beginning of the Year of the Shrine. Masses will continue weekly throughout the year.
The three Schoenstatt sisters who care for the Shrine in Crete are hoping that this year-long observation will bring many more Nebraska pilgrims to their door, even though the concept of going on a pilgrimage isn’t as prevalent in the United States as it is in Europe.
"Oftentimes Americans don’t have it in their mindset to make those journeys," acknowledged Sister M. Jennifer. "But there are 10 Schoenstatt Shrines in the U.S., and one of them is practically in your own back yard."
She said that a person can drive out to the Schoenstatt Shrine for any reason, whether it’s a practical need, such as finding a job or seeking relief from a physical ailment, or the desire for spiritual inspiration.
"That concept of going on a pilgrimage, driving to a shrine or a place of Marian pilgrimage... it’s a way of saying, ‘Yes, I’m serious about getting closer to Christ, and I’m going to prove that.’"
The word Schoenstatt means "beautiful place" in German.
Father Joseph Kentenich founded the Schoenstatt Movement in Cologne, Germany, along with a group of young men from the Pallotine Seminary. They sealed their Covenant of Love with the Blessed Mother October 19, 1914 and immediately began to see graces poured out on their lives. Soon afterward, Schoenstatt communities came into being, including the Schoenstatt Sisters and the Schoenstatt Diocesan Priests.
Members of this apostolic movement seek to meet and respond to God in their everyday lives. According to the Schoenstatt website (www.schoenstatt.org), "Belonging to Schoenstatt is not just about saying prayers, doing certain activities or attending meetings. It is a way of life."
Today, the Schonestatt movement has grown to include communities of priests, sisters and brothers, lay men and women, youth and families who live out the Schoenstatt spirituality.
"There are different levels within Schoenstatt, and different commitments," explained Sister M. Jennifer.
The movement spread around the globe during the1940s.
When the Nazi Regime became a threat to the Shoenstatts, Father Kentenich sent Schoenstatt Sisters to South Africa and Uruguay, as a protection and safeguard that Schoenstatt would remain in existence. He was later imprisoned at Dachau.
Meanwhile, in these other countries, the sisters longed for the physical sign of their charism: the Shrine itself.
"They didn’t want a separate shrine. They wanted one that was almost the same, with the same graces," Sister Jennifer said.
With their founder in a concentration camp, however, there was no way to get any sort of dimensions or blueprints to follow.
The sisters relied on their memory – not just how many pews, but how many of them fit into each pew so they could determine the length. Not just how many windows, but how far they had to reach when washing them so they could determine the shape and dimensions.
"They ended up building almost an exact replica," Sister Jennifer marveled.
As the Schoenstatt movement grew, more "daughter" shrines that replicate the "mother" shrine in every way have been built all over the world. Since 2007, Nebraskans have had the privilege of having one in Crete.
There, the sisters host Mass, rosaries and retreats. They also reach out into the nearby communities with programs for girls, women and family and welcome youngsters to summer camps.
One example of the Schoenstatt influence in the diocese is the Marian Missionaries, a group of high school girls who plan and run their own outreach programs for younger girls.
"These girls are doing an amazing job," Sister Jennifer said.
After one successful program at Saint Leo Parish in Palmyra, the girls are busily planning another one for girls aged 9 to 11 at North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln. They have planned the activities, the talks and the meals all on their own.
For the Year of the Shrine, the Schoenstatt Sisters have more in store for all Catholics. They have begun hosting Mass every Saturday (instead of once a month), and pray the rosary for special intentions every fourth Saturday.
Of course, pilgrims are always welcome, since the Shrine is truly a place of pilgrimage.
"Our main goal is to bring the people to experience the graces of the Shrine," said Sister Jennifer.
She noted that when people come on pilgrimage to a Schoenstatt Shrine, they should bring a special intention. Paper is available next to the altar so that faithful can write down their petitions and place them in a jar. The papers are never read, but the sisters pray diligently for the intentions.
"Miracles have happened at Schoenstatt Shrines," Sister Jennifer said. "The most important are the miracles of inner transformation and conversion.The main thing the Blessed Mother is worried about is our hearts, helping us become saints."
After spending time in prayer, pilgrims are encouraged to walk about the grounds.
"Some people just come to sit because it’s a quiet place," said Sister Jennifer. "It’s simply a place to meet God in a more profound way."
The Year of the Shrine will begin with Mass at 9:30 a.m. All are welcome to attend.
Learn more about the Schoenstatt Shrine and movement at cormariae.com.