Three area shrines offer meditation, prayer and a sense of peace and quiet.
By JOSH ECHT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
In 1980, Warren resident Marie Dippolito made a vow at Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine that she said she gladly broke shortly thereafter.
"My friend and I vowed never to go back because of mosquitoes during celebration of the Feast of the Assumption," she said. "It was a hot August day."
However, she said God had other plans for her.
Dippolito became an artist for the North Jackson shrine, 2759 N. Lipkey Road, one of several Catholic shrines in the Mahoning Valley.
"I wound up helping as an artist, painting murals and creating artwork for the shrine," Dippolito said. "I'm glad I went back."
The shrine, which features a 12-foot-statue of Our Lady of Lebanon perched atop a 50-foot-tall tower, draws pilgrims from all over the world, said Monsignor Anthony Spinoza, the shrine's director.
The 71/2 ton statue received its name, Our Lady of Lebanon, from Maronite priests who wanted to create a national shrine to Lebanon in the 1960s. Lebanon is home to the mother church of the Maronites, but more than 150,000 Maronite Catholics live in the United States, Monsignor Spinoza said.
"This is a replica of the original 100-foot statue in Lebanon," he said. "The shrine also has a walking path called the Martyrs Trail, honoring 27 Catholic martyrs."
Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine also features Cedars Banquet Hall and Christ the Prince of Peace Chapel, which holds 450 people, he said.
The monsignor lives in a rectory next to the shrine.
The purpose of shrines is to help people feel comfortable about devoting time to God, said Rev. Jeffrey Mickler, vocation director for St. Paul Wayside Shrine, 9531 Akron-Canfield Road in Ellsworth Township.
"Roadside shrines are important because people come in, say their prayers in private and move on," Father Mickler said.
The priest is a member of the Society of St. Paul, a religious congregation originating in Italy.
Twelve priests and brothers live and work together in the facility next to the shrine. The organization runs the Catholic Television Network of Youngstown, featured on the Ecumenical Television Channel and focuses on radio and television to spread their message.
"Several of the statues outside of the shrine hold scrolls and books, which represent our group's way of reaching out to the people."
Saint Paul's Wayside Shrine, constructed in the 1950s, features a 10-by-15-foot brick room with votive candles, a guestbook, a stained-glass window, and statues of St. Anthony of Padua, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, Jesus' father. Father Mickler said saints represent a vital part of Catholic shrines.
"Saints play an important role in the Catholic faith because they continue to pray for us on earth while in heaven," he said.
Mickler estimated 3,000 to 4,000 pass through the roadside shrine annually.
However, Monsignor Spinoza said it's not easy to predict visitor totals for several reasons.
"Our shrine isn't a regular parish church; we don't have people who belong to the shrine like a regular parish would, but we have annual visitors and visitors who we see in the spring and fall."
Pilgrimages, conferences and tour groups affect annual totals, he added. Special events such as last year's visit from The Rev. John Corapi of Eternal World Television Network fame draw large amounts of pilgrims.
One reason shrines attract people to them is the quiet, peaceful atmosphere, said Brother Vit Fiala, of the Shrine of Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted, 517 S. Belle Vista Ave., Youngstown.
"You can't hear cars from the street when you're in our outdoor shrine, even though you can see them 80 feet away," he said.
Brother Fiala, a Franciscan friar, directs the Youngstown shrine, originally geared toward Hungarian Catholics after the 1956 Hungarian revolution. The shrine, which opened in 1964, features a statue of St. Stephen, the "Iron Curtain Stations of the Cross," and two statues of Our Lady of Fatima sent from the bishop of Fatima, Portugal.
"The Iron Curtain Stations of the Cross features scenes of Jesus suffering and Hungarians suffering together on granite stones," he said. "The bishop of Fatima came to Youngstown and blessed one of the Fatima statues."
Fiala said a challenge shrines face is getting people to know they exist and encouraging them to visit.
"We want to make people more aware of these shrines in the Youngstown area," he said.
One person who is aware of the shrines' presence is Austintown resident Marge Frankford. Frankford attended a renewal at St. Christine Church in Youngstown 11 years ago and visits Our Lady of Lebanon frequently. She said the renewal and the shrine helped her change her life.
"After I attended the renewal, I came here and prayed in the shrine chapel," she said. "I asked God to prove himself to me, and he did."