HANCEVILLE – On a typical Saturday, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament near Hanceville will host up to 300 visitors. But Sept. 2 was no typical Saturday: on this day the Shrine celebrated Divino Niño Day, a celebration of the child Jesus that enjoys immense popularity throughout Latin America.
Apparently, it has a following here, too; an estimated crowd of at least 1,500 Catholic faithful came through the Shrine’s gates to visit the church and other attractions on the grounds of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, attend Mass, and take part in in a celebratory procession around the grounds.
A quick scan of license plates in the parking lot indicated that this was not a local festival, but a nationwide pilgrimage. Cars, vans and charter buses from Florida, Georgia and Tennessee filled many spaces; there were also visitors from Virginia and the Carolinas, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and western pilgrims from Texas and as far as California.
Shrine Business Manager Susy Stokes explained, “The event is to celebrate the Divino Niño. In Latin America, one of the biggest feast days is the feast day of the Divino Niño, which is a celebration for Jesus as a small child. It usually falls within the first week of September, and Mother Angelica had a great devotion to the Divino Niño. So, when she built this temple and put the Divino Niño out front, it just was natural that we would have a big celebration for the Divino Niño.”
The devotion began in Bogota, Colombia in the 1940s. EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) founder Mother Angelica made the devotion well-known in the United States in the late 1990s, when she dedicated the building of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament to the Divine Child Jesus, saying that while visiting the Colombian church where the devotion began and praying before a statue of the Divino Niño, she heard a young boy’s voice say, “Build me a temple, and I will help those who help you.”
Why does the church have a capital T on top?
It’s a cross, just not the one most folks are used to. The Shrine church reproduces the architecture of 13th century Franciscan shrines, and Franciscans often use a cross icon with the crossbar atop the upright post, a form many historians say more accurately represents the crosses used by Romans for execution. The Shrine originally had a more common “Latin” cross, but after it was mounted, the top section was knocked off by a lightning strike. Mother Angelica took it as a sign, leaving the now Franciscan cross alone and displaying the top piece in a church courtyard.
In later years, Mother Angelica said, “I want very much to spread devotion to the Divine Child Jesus. Not only is He powerful, but what you and I need is family–and that Child Jesus will make us one again. He will put love in our hearts, where it should be.”
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