Sunday, December 4, 2016

St. Wenceslaus Church, Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague

*December 2016 Corridor Article 
That is how I felt as Cecilia Hecker was giving me a private tour of the St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Prague, home of the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus.  The St. Wenceslaus Church of Prague dates back to 1899 but The Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague only dates back to 1947.  At that time, the church had again outgrown its current location and was in need of a new building, but funds were limited and things were in a holding pattern.  It’s said that Father George V. Johnson, while walking up and down the aisle of the Church praying The Divine Office, caught sight of the Infant Jesus of Prague statue and promised the Infant Jesus that he would make a new church a Shrine to the Infant Jesus of Prague if the Infant would help him get a new church built.  Donations started rolling in from locals and folks across the United States and the church was dedicated in February of 1949.  After completion of the church the Father then traveled to Rome to gain permission to make the Church into a Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague.  “The More You Honor Me, The More I Will Bless You”, has become the centerpiece of world-wide devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague.

When you walk into the church the first thing you will see on the south wall is a beautiful stain glass piece of the St. Wenceslaus, the only surviving piece after a tornado went through and destroyed the church in 1919.  

The windows throughout the church are stained glass and depict the history of the devotion of the Infant Jesus. 

Behind the pulpit you will see the statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague.  The statue is dressed in colors according to the Church liturgical calendar.  You can view the different gowns for the infant just off the sanctuary.  There are several gowns, each made and donated to the Shrine by people from all over the world.  Some are very elaborate with beads painstakingly sewn on by hand, while others are elegantly simple.
Another thing the Church is proud of is the three relics located at the front of the sanctuary.  The relics of the Holy Cross, the Holy Manger, and St. Wenceslaus and St. John the Great are preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial. 
When visiting the outside of the Shrine you can walk through a stations garden that holds statues depicting the life of Christ.  At the end of the walk you can sit and meditate over the beautiful granite fountain depicting the empty tomb that was created and sculpted in Rome and is an exclusive at the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague.  Also, outside is a small garden and fountain along a covered walkway dedicated to Saint Francis.  On the south side of the church is a peaceful Mother’s Garden dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.   A covered table with benches provides a great place to sit and meditate or just escape from the outside world, while listening to the sounds of the rain fountain. 

For those of you with youngsters in the family, there is a great place to let the kiddos run off a bit of energy before getting back into the car for your next destination along The Corridor.  The playground is designed to allow the children a learning experience.  The setup follows the format of the Infant Jesus Chaplet.  There are twelve round pads circling the playground equipment representing the twelve beads on the Chaplet.  Each pad represents one of the stages of Christ’s Infancy and Childhood.
The Church is currently in the season of Advent.  Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas Eve and is the preparation of the coming of Christ, the first coming, or birth of Christ, and also the anticipation of the second coming of Christ.   The church uses a wreath with three purple and one pink candles to represent each week of Advent.  A life size nativity is located in front of the church with an empty manger.  The baby Jesus will be added on Christmas Eve to begin the Christmas season. 
The season of Christmas starts on Christmas Eve and runs through Epiphany, the feast of the arrival of the wise men, which is January 6.  A friend of mine, Jerry Suva, recalls one St. Wenceslaus priest, Fr. Joachim Spexarth, now at St. Gregory’s Abbey/University, who really took this to heart.  Suva says, “There would be a few lights and an empty crèche, (nativity), out front during December, but that was *all*.  Then come Christmas Eve, the church would be decked out like Griswold’s.  He really wanted to emphasize the waiting and the celebrating of Jesus’ arrival.   This same priest, had a knack for emphasizing the humanity of Jesus, that he was real, had relationships with Mary, Joseph, cousins, townsfolk.   Fr. Joachim explained the reason for having a shrine that commemorates Jesus in His infant form is exactly the same reason why the shepherds and the Magi traveled to see the baby Jesus.  He was real, so real that he was otherwise an infant child just like the rest of us.  Even as an infant He was God and our savior.  He was made flesh and dwelt among us.  That’s what visiting the Shrine should remind us.”   Suva, who often served as an Altar Boy at the church, also stated that because the midnight mass Christmas Eve service was always packed, they would arrive thirty minutes early, during that time the choir sings carols before.  He said “it was really, *really* Christmas then.”

            Along with the many other Christmas traditions of the Church, they have Christmas Bell Trees.  Bells can be purchased in honor of loved ones, alive or deceased, and the bells and names are hung on a tree.  The names are remembered at the Shrine during Mass and Novena prayers during the month of December. 

            The church also holds a yearly holiday bazar featuring local artists and crafters. This year it is December 10 from 8am to 12pm.
            To learn the history of the St. Wenceslaus Church, Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague and of the Miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague, which dates back more than four hundred years, go visit the church, it will be worth your time.  Hours for the Shrine office and gift shop are Monday thru Friday 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday 12 pm to 3pm.  If you visit during these hours the staff will be happy to take you on a tour.  If not visiting during these hours, brochures are available to take you on a self-guided tour. 

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