STOCKBRIDGE -- Pilgrims from around the region are expected to ascend Eden Hill on Friday for a special ceremony dedicating life-size statues depicting Jesus Christ's path to crucifixion.

Over the past several months, the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy has installed 12 of the 14 sets of hollow, bronze figures depicting the Stations of the Cross. The final two are due to arrive in November, but likely will be installed next spring, according to shrine officials.

The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, will formally bless the stations beginning at 4 p.m. McDonnell will lead a procession of lay people and the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception (MIC), blessing each station individually.

The Stockbridge contingent of Marian Fathers oversee the shrine their predecessors built more than 50 years ago on the 350-acre site. The 20 priests and brothers, along with 100 lay staff members, are part of a year-round global mission dedicated to promoting Christ's message of mercy and compassion.

While Shrine officials are unsure how many people will attend Friday's blessing ceremony, they anticipate attendance will be significantly less than the 17,000 visitors for the annual Mercy Sunday celebration held the Sunday after Easter.

Only one of five in the United States, the life-like stations are along a winding path on a grassy knoll across from the shrine's chapel. The bronze statues created by Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz is another example of Christ as The Divine Mercy, according to the Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' provincial superior.

"The mystery of Christ's death is the greatest expression of his mercy," said Chwal ek. "He bears our suffering by carrying the cross for us."

Chwalek acknowledged the concept for the outdoor stations was borne 15 years ago, but wasn't realized until 2009 when a generous benefactor from Boston agreed to fund the project. Chwalek didn't disclose the amount of the donation.

Schmalz, a world-renowned Christian sculptor living 90 minutes west of Toronto, was commissioned to create the 52 statues and 13 crosses used to depict the 14 Stations of the Cross.

The resident of St. Jacobs, Ontario, believes people will be moved by the work that took three years to complete.

"When you look into the eyes of the sculptures, it evokes a power," he said. "I hope they really spark more of an understanding of the passion of Christ."

Chwalek says the life-like Stations of the Cross run the gamut of human emotion.

"The expressions on the faces of Jesus, Blessed Mother Mary, Simon, and others throughout the stations show sadness, compassion, suffering, pain and betrayal," he said.

Chwalek foresees the bronze, life-like stations drawing more visitors to the shrine, for both religious and artistic reasons.

"Anyone interested in art would find these statues fascinating," he said. "That alone is worth the visit."

The shrine -- open year-round --- attracts roughly 70,000 visitors a year, according to Chwalek. That figure includes attendance for the Mercy Sunday celebration.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233

By the numbers

26,000 pounds: The amount of bronze used to create the life-like Stations of the Cross at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge.

52 statues, 13 crosses: The number of figures created for the stations.

3 years: How long Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz needed to complete the project.

1 of 5: The shrine has just one of the five life-sized Stations of the Cross in the United States.