STOCKBRIDGE — When the bells tolled, they sat on the hillside, one household per bench, bundled against a bitter wind.
They gripped rosaries. They wore masks.
The clouds over Eden Hill at The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Saturday rippled, and a peach sunglow spread in the distance as celebration of the Holy Mass began.Earlier, in a field near the parking lot, priests lined up for the “drive-thru” confession. And visitors walked the grounds through the Stations of the Cross. After the pandemic shut down the Shrine and all services for two weeks here last spring, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception brainstormed how to recalibrate so that they could continue their mission to serve a far-flung and vast flock, and continue to bring it the sacraments.
“To give hope that God is still with them in the crisis,” said Father Anthony Gramlich, rector.
Gramlich said that since COVID, the Shrine is now busier than ever, and still able to keep people apart while bringing them together.
Every day the Mass is celebrated inside the Saint Faustina Center; on weekends, it is outside. Daily drive-thru confessions are offered, as is Holy Communion.
The indoor Shrine Church remains closed, and there’s a long list of pandemic safety rules. But, there’s plenty of space and fresh air here. The priests who live and work on the site blessed every inch of the Shrine property for protection early on in the crisis, Gramlich said.
Most remarkable, he added, is that the Shrine’s daily livestreamed Mass is attended by 30,000 to 40,000 from around the world.
“We were shocked,” he said of these numbers.
Since the Marian Fathers purchased the 350-acre Eden Hill property in 1943, the place has evolved into a sacred center of divine inspiration and healing.
And each April — except for this last — it draws thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims to Divine Mercy Sunday, the Catholic feast the Sunday after Easter.
The flocks are smaller now. But, they still come.
“It’s beautiful,” said Gregory Anderson, of Keene, N.H.
Anderson, in the Berkshires for the week, attended the Holy Mass on Saturday and drive-thru confession. He said he’s been avoiding confession at his home church because the lines are so long due to COVID.
“It’s hard,” he said.
“There was a priest for whatever ails you,” said Lynda Pratt, of West Stockbridge and Bradenton, Fla., who for years came for counseling. “The priests are beautiful,” she said.