By Becky Aubut
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — La Salette Father Ted Brown, director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, wants everyone to know that the shrine is gearing up for its 63rd Festival of Lights regardless of what anyone has said or heard.
“Please come,” he stated. “We are hearing reports that because people know about the court [tax-exemption issue], they think we’re not doing [the lights] this year. We are open seven days a week, just as always.”
Starting on November 24 and running until Jan. 1, 2017, there will be illuminations daily from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. This year’s theme, “Make It Known,” may seem aptly named considering Father Brown’s concerns about getting the word out, but the theme actually hearkens to Jesus and His mother.
“It refers to two things: where Jesus sends everyone out, and it’s from the words from the apparition of Mary at La Salette,” explained Father Brown. “At the end of her message, she says, ‘Well, my children, make this known to all my children.’ We’re bouncing off of those two.”
Every year the shrine tries to bring something new, and this year among the more than 400,000 lights will be Spiritual guardians: “What we’ve done this year is we have these new angels that surround each Station of the Cross. There are these huge angels that will be lit up at each station around the site of the apparition facsimile,” said Father Brown.
For families, visiting La Salette is an annual tradition and for good reason, said Father Brown.
“There’s a certain wholesomeness to it,” he said. “We certainly try to be family friendly. A lot of it is family tradition; I hear people say, ‘I came here with my parents and now I bring my kids.’ Sometimes it’s like three or four generations, who say that without coming to La Salette, it just wouldn’t be Christmas for us.
“It’s a place among all the commercialism. It’s a place where the center is still on the basic message of Christ born among us. It’s a message of the Word taking Flesh. It’s still about the manger scene being at the center of it all. Not that we don’t have other things going on, but it’s primarily a religious display of Christmas lights.”
Father Brown noted that there are small signs among commercialized businesses showing they are against celebrating Christmas too early. While Christmas candy and displays may already be present in some stores, Nordstrom does not put up their Christmas displays until the day after Thanksgiving.
“Of all stores, you wouldn’t think Nordstrom, so maybe there’s a push back coming,” he said. “Certainly there’s a secularization going on in our society. I’m not one to pit one against the other, but certainly we remain one of the few places where that religious theme is still very, very evident.”
Along with the outdoor lights and activities, inside the shrine the Holy Family can be found in many devotional forms. Father Brown said he has lost count of the number of displays there are in the International Crèche Museum: “I’ve been told there are more than 2,000 crèches. Those are fascinating. They’re from all over the world. Some are made from matchsticks, from Coke bottle tops, very beautiful carved wood, blown glass — if it’s possible to make one out of something, it’s there. It’s the devotion. Some of it’s high art and some of them are folk art.”
This year, on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, there will be a visit not from Santa Claus but from St. Nicholas in full bishop regalia, after the 4 p.m. Mass, and he will talk about the legend of St. Nicholas.
Other events of note are Father André “Pat” Patenaude concerts Tuesday — Friday 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., with concerts on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Known at the “The Troubadour Priest” and “The Music Man,” Father Pat began singing in his childhood years in Fall River, making his musical debut at the age of nine on a Fall River radio station. He continued to develop his singing, and learned to play the guitar during his preparation for the priesthood with the La Salette Missionaries. During his time of study in Canada at the University of Ottawa and St. Paul, he and a few Brothers began singing as a group and delighted audiences with their Spirit-filled music.
As a young priest, he was assigned to a parish on Cape Cod. Father Pat became more involved in singing and writing Liturgical music, realizing this was a direct way of reaching people. His next assignment was as director of The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette. Here, he continued to develop his music and has recorded a number of albums, and a powerful DVD on Our Lady of La Salette which aired on several television stations in the U.S and Middle East. More information on Father Pat and his music can be found on his website: www.FatherPat.org.
“It’s amazing how many people come just for him,” said Father Brown. “They know of his concerts; all sorts of people come just for that. He has a recording of the ‘Serenity Prayer,’ which he puts into almost all of his concerts. A lot of people find solace in it.”
Father Brown said that he estimates that in a good season, like last year when it was warm and there wasn’t much rain, roughly 500,000 people visit the shrine during the Festival of Lights.
“When I think about Christmas,” said Father Brown, “I think about the manger scene, and I think most of us think about, ‘Silent Night, Holy Night.’ You really think about a barn and the animals in there, and it’s noisy. It’s smelly. [Shortly after Christ is born] there’s a movement of violence towards the Christ Child. Here we have a God Who comes into the midst of chaotic violence that we have, right in the middle of it, and God is not afraid of our chaos, not afraid of our violence, but comes right into the middle of it as a vulnerable Child.
“The message of La Salette is Reconciliation; come back to Me. Mary came to these two children; they were not daily Mass-goers, if they went to Mass at all. Mary comes to these children with her message that God wants to be with the people on the periphery, like Pope Francis has said.”
Photos with St. Nicholas will be offered every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5-9 p.m. in the Welcome Center, along with a trolley, hayrides and a carousel.
The International Crèche Museum will be open every day, Monday through Friday from 5-9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 2-9 p.m.
Christmas Craft Fair Weekend will be held November 25-27 from 12-9 p.m. in the Welcome Center. There is also a store at the shrine open daily, as well as a food court/snack bar area.
Regular Mass times will be Monday through Friday 12:10 p.m. and 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday Mass times will be 12:10 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Holiday Mass times will be as follows: Christmas Eve Masses at 12:10 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Midnight Mass on December 25 at 12 a.m.; Christmas Day Mass at 12:10 p.m.; New Year’s Eve Masses on December 31 at 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Haitian); New Year’s Day Masses at 12:10 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Reconciliation will be offered daily (except on December 25 and January 1) from 1-5 p.m.
Special events also include December 10 at 9 a.m. in the Welcome Center, Deacon Greg Kandra and Christopher Kenney of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and ONE Magazine will be talking about peace in the Middle East.
To see the full schedule of featured speakers, activities and Mass schedule, visit La Salette’s regularly updated website: www.lasaletteattleboroshrine.org.