KINGSTREE — Lucille Watson of Charleston dedicated all four of her boys, Ilya, Stas, Vlad and Max, to Mary when she adopted them from Russia.
She said the boys, who are home-schooled, are now preparing shoeboxes to send to children overseas at Christmas and have been praying the rosary for those they will help.
This devotion to Mary in daily life led Watson and her husband, John, to bring their family to the sixth annual Diocese of Charleston Rosary Celebration held Oct. 11 in Kingstree. The Williamsburg County town is the home of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina – Our Lady of Joyful Hope, which was officially inaugurated in 2006.
The Watsons joined about 175 people who attended the festival, held inside a hall at the Kingstree Recreational Park. The crowd of families with young children, women religious and senior citizens sang hymns and prayed a scriptural rosary together, led by Peg McAleer and Sandra Berry from St. Michael Church in Garden City.
The Penafrancia Prayer Group, a Filipino group from Goose Creek, performed a special hymn about Mary. The group takes its name from the Virgin of Penafrancia, who is the patron saint of the nation’s Bicol province.
Mass was celebrated by Father James L. Miara, a priest from Bronx, N.Y., who is a member of the Marian Movement of Priests. He is the spiritual director for the New York Archdiocesan Division of the World Apostolate of Fatima, also known as The Blue Army.
During his homily, Father Miara spoke about his devotion to Marian shrines and the benefits of praying at a shrine. He said he was intrigued to learn about the Kingstree shrine when Father Stanley Smolenski, director, invited him to speak at the festival.
“This shrine is a special house for Our Lady in this diocese, the Blessed Mother lives here,” Father Miara said. “I consider it a real grace to be here. From wherever we came today, we will leave refreshed and renewed, with new strength to pick up our crosses.”
Father Miara said he has visited Marian shrines located in remote rural areas, in forests and in small towns such as Kingstree. He said the Diocese of Charleston is fortunate to have the site and the opportunity to make pilgrimages dedicated to Mary.
“Jesus and Mary are both showering graces on South Carolina through the shrine,” he said. “Not everyone can go to Lourdes or Fatima or Guadalupe, but our Blessed Mother is just as present here as she is in those more famous places.”
Father Miara pointed out the icon of Our Lady of South Carolina that hung over the altar, and noted that the figure of Mary in the icon holds a rosary in her hand. He said praying the rosary is a special devotion because it is the only prayer specifically requested by Mary.
“The rosary is the answer to these days of uncertainty, when we have terrorism and many other trials in our daily lives,” he said. “There are many sacrifices we can make and offer up to Mary by being faithful to her through the rosary. How much time we waste in front of the TV, or in useless chatter. Why don’t we take up our rosary and pray it?”
He said the rosary can be a guard against the temptations of daily life, and it also provides Catholics an important daily link to Mary.
“Love the rosary … all the saints love this most powerful of prayers,” he said. “All of us should be praying the rosary at least once a day. With every Hail Mary, we are telling the Blessed Mother ‘I love you.’ What beautiful music those prayers are to her.”
Father Smolenski told the crowd about the importance of the shrine’s mission in the diocese.
“This is a votive shrine … our response to the Holy Father’s entrusting of the church to Mary,” he said. “You here today represent the entire diocese, all the parishes and all the Catholics of South Carolina. You are here not just for your needs, but you represent the needs of the diocese. This day is not very physically inviting, but the spiritual rewards will be great.”
Father Smolenski said he hopes the Kingstree shrine will provide pilgrims with a deeper knowledge of Mary’s love, and motivate them to serve people in need in her name.
After the Mass, many people remained to eat lunch and peruse the tables filled with Marian literature and special handmade rosaries. Mary Ann Myers of Myrtle Beach showed the four Watson boys how to make rosaries.
“This was absolutely gorgeous, I loved every minute of it,” Mrs. Watson said. “It was a real blessing to be able to be here together.”
Maria Gabriela Simons of Mount Pleasant said she attended the festival because she wants to consecrate her life to Mary.
“This day was very special. I could feel the Blessed Mother’s presence here,” she said. “You almost feel like she was smiling down at us today.”