Members of the Diocese of Juneau undertook a physical and spiritual pilgrimage this weekend, as they dedicated the day chapel at St. Paul's Catholic Church as a shrine and blessed an icon created to mark a holy year dedicated to the rosary in the Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II last year designated October 2002 to October 2003 as the Year of the Rosary. Catholics around the world were called to contemplate the connection between the traditional prayer, which consists of many repetitions of the Hail Mary, and spiritual life.
Members of the Diocese of Juneau answered that call by commissioning an icon depicting the rosary, having special music composed for prayer services this weekend, and completing a nine-mile pilgrimage from the Cathedral of the Nativity downtown to St. Paul's Catholic Church in the Mendenhall Valley.
"It's an opportunity to celebrate our life as Christians and the place of Mary in our life," said Bishop Michael Warfel, who planned the weekend events
with the help of other diocese members and Robert Daly, director of evangelization and stewardship for the diocese.
The pilgrimage, the culminating event of the weekend, is "a spiritual journey that is manifested physically," said Warfel.
The walk was divided into four sections, each devoted to a different set of five mysteries of the rosary. Since it was first developed more than 800 years ago, praying the rosary consisted of three sets of five mysteries - the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries and the glorious mysteries - that depict key parts of Jesus' life. This year, the Pope dedicated a new set of five mysteries, the luminous mysteries.
Transportation was provided at four rest points along the journey for those who could not walk the full nine miles, Daly said. While the pilgrims prayed through each of the mysteries as they walked, other faithful prayed the same prayers at St. Paul's Catholic Church.
The icon, traditionally a small oil painting done on wood and venerated in Eastern Christian churches, was created by Juneau artist Charles Rohrbacher. The bishop blessed the icon Friday night.
Rohrbacher designed the icon to depict each of the 20 mysteries of the rosary. The result is a large work with what is effectively 22 separate icons - one large center one depicting the annunciation of Mary to heaven, and 21 others surrounding the large one.
"I don't believe there are any other icons done this way," said Bishop Warfel. "This is definitely a unique work of art."
Bishop Warfel commissioned Rohrbacher to create the icon in February, a particularly stressful time for Rohrbacher, the artist said. Two weeks after he accepted the task, a close friend was diagnosed with an aggressive form of uterine cancer.
The news "cut to the heart in a way that surprised me and really changed me," Rohrbacher told parishioners who attended the blessing of the icon.
"I resolved to make the painting of the icon my prayer for her," he said. He spent four months working on the icon - a process he described as a pilgrimage in itself.
"At times it's tedious and boring, and other times it's exhilarating and rewarding," he said. The icon was placed permanently in the day chapel at St. Paul's Catholic Church, which was dedicated as the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary on Saturday night.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.