WATERBURY—The organizers of the Holy Land Mountaintop Mass, honoring Venerable Fr. Michael J. McGivney, hope their event will cause a revitalization of faith and increased devotion to the founder of the Knights of Columbus, who grew up in Waterbury.
“We think this will be a significant religious event for the city and the state, in the spirit of the new evangelization,” said Father James Sullivan, pastor of Church of the Assumption in Ansonia and organizer of the Mass. “It will be a celebration of Holy Land and Father McGivney’s life and legacy.”
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair will celebrate Mass on top of Holy Land USA on August 11 in an event being planned in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus and the organization that owns the park.
Several thousand people are expected to attend from across the state. They believe it will increase devotion to Father McGivney, whose cause for sainthood is being considered by the Vatican, in addition to calling attention to Holy Land, a religious theme park which during the 1960s and 1970s attracted more than 40,000 visitors annually and was known for its 56-foot illuminated cross that could be seen from the highway.
Over the past several months, volunteers, members of the Knights of Columbus and area construction companies have been working daily to refurbish Holy Land for the event. The roads have been repaved and the mountaintop has been cleared of brush. The entrance is being redesigned with a new gate, which the organizers hope will be ready in time for the Mass.
“We want to bring Christ to the people with a mountaintop experience,” Father Sullivan said. “God speaks to us in a special way on mountains.”
Chuck Pagano, Chairman of Holy Land USA, said, “Growing up in Waterbury connected me with Holy Land as a child because I saw it every evening from my childhood bed. And there are numerous reminders of Father McGivney around our city that still connect me with him. The event is a perfect celebration for both important entities that helped develop me over the years.”
The mountaintop offers views of the places where Father McGivney was born, baptized, educated and buried for 92 years until his body was moved to St. Mary Church in New Haven, where he began the Knights of Columbus. The August 11 Mass is on the eve of Father McGivney’s birthday, August 12, 1852. He died at 38 on August 14, 1890.
The park, which is on an 18-acre site, once included biblical scenes from the life of Jesus and recreations of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Holy Land was developed by John Baptist Greco, a Waterbury attorney, who began a volunteer organization called Companions of Christ, whose purpose was to create and oversee the religious park, which opened in 1955.
However, the park fell into disrepair and eventually closed in 1984. When John Greco died two years later, the property was given to the Religious Teachers Filippini. Over the years, various attempts to revive the park were unsuccessful although the cross was restored and later replaced in 2008 and dedicated during a Mass by Archbishop Henry Mansell.
In 2013, Mayor Neil O’Leary and Waterbury businessman Fred “Fritz” Blasius purchased the site from the Filippini Sisters. They eventually erected a new and larger cross on the hill, and there have been other initiatives to refurbish parts of the park, which reopened on September 14, 2014 with an inaugural Mass.
“Anyone who has been through the area is familiar with Holy Land,” Father Sullivan said. “Truck drivers passing on Route 84 would look for the cross. People were moved to see it illuminated at night on the hilltop. The mountain has always had a spiritual mystique. It is a landmark, but also an icon.”
Father Sullivan had the idea for the Holy Land Mountaintop Mass following the success of a Mass last year on the Feast of the Transfiguration, which he celebrated for almost 100 people on the top of High Rock in Naugatuck. When he approached Archbishop Blair, Mayor O’Leary and John Marrella, Supreme Advocate and General Counsel of the Knights of Columbus, he got an enthusiastic reception and moved forward.
“Being born in Waterbury, I can recall as a young boy when all the churches were filled,” Father Sullivan said. “The spiritual climate of the world has diminished with many forces pulling us away from our devotion to God. The human heart, however, is made for God. The prayer of many of us is that He be found again. By God’s grace, Holy Land in Waterbury will help to reignite that flame of love.”
Three crosses representing Calvary on top of Holy Land USA.The gates will open at 2 pm on August 11. The rosary will begin at 4 pm, followed by praise and worship by the Christian group Hands and Feet. Mass will start at 5:30. There is no public parking at Holy Land at 90 Slocum Street. Free parking and shuttle service is available from St. Mary’s Hospital parking garage on South Elm Street beginning at 2 pm. Bus groups should email firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and umbrellas and ponchos in case of rain. There will be food concessions at the park. For further information, visit HolyLandWaterbury.org
Featured Photo: Illuminated cross at the top of Holy Land USA in Waterbury.