WATERBURY—The Second Annual Mountaintop Mass at Holy Land USA, honoring the life and legacy of Venerable Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be held April 28, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Auxiliary Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt will celebrate the Mass, which is cosponsored by the Holy Land foundation and the Knights of Columbus.
“We are hoping for a beautiful spring day, and this has the potential to be a landmark event,” said Father James Sullivan, pastor of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury and organizer of the event. “I believe something truly wonderful is going to come from this and that it will reignite the faith in many people.”
Father Sullivan expects attendance to exceed last year’s Mass, which attracted more than 1000 people from across the state to the former religious theme park, known for its 60-foot illuminated cross, which can be seen for miles from the highway.
Last year Archbishop Leonard Blair concelebrated the Mass with 13 priests and three deacons on a stage that had a large banner proclaiming, “Welcome to Holy Land USA.” The mountaintop offers a view of the places where Waterbury native Father McGivney was born, baptized, educated and buried for 92 years until his remains were moved to the Church of St. Mary in New Haven, where he began the Knights of Columbus.
During the 1960s and 70s, the park, which opened in 1955, attracted 45,000 visitors a year — they were tourists and pilgrims who went to pray, meditate and recall the events of Jesus’ life, from his birth to his crucifixion, by following a path that circled the hill and led to a depiction of Calvary.
After falling into disrepair, Holy Land closed in 1984. However, in recent years, it has experienced a revival. The roads have been repaved, the hilltop is landscaped, exhibits are being restored and a new gate and arch are being installed at the entrance.
Over the years, the park has been an inspiration to countless people. “Truck drivers passing on Route 84 would look for the cross,” Father Sullivan said. In 1966, when he was 6 years old, he visited Holy Land for the first time, when his father took him and his aunt, a missionary nun from Australia, to the top of Pine Hill. It was an experience he never forgot.
Holy Land, which is set on an 18-acre site, included biblical scenes from the life of Jesus and recreations of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It was created by John Baptist Greco, a Waterbury attorney, who began a volunteer organization called Companions of Christ that helped build and maintain the park.
When John Greco died in 1986, the property was given to the Religious Teachers Filippini. Over the years, various attempts to revive Holy Land 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 larger cross on the hill, and the park reopened on September 14, 2014.
Father Sullivan said Holy Land will be used for Masses, Christian prayer services, concerts and other events. He believes it will be a place where people will come to pray, find peace and meditate on Christ’s life, which was the vision that inspired John Greco 70 years ago.
Chuck Pagano, Chairman of Holy Land USA, says the park will be officially open to the public in the spring, with the installation of a new gate. However, visitors are currently permitted during the day and for special events.
“This has always been a labor of love for the volunteers, the community and the board,” he said. “The volunteers are tidying it up, and little by little with the new entrance, it will be a brighter place for the public.”
Over the past year, community volunteers, members of the Knights of Columbus, and area construction crews have worked free of charge to refurbish Holy Land. The roads were repaved and the mountaintop was cleared of brush.
The organizers of the Holy Land Mountaintop Mass believe the event will cause a revitalization of faith and increased devotion to the founder of the Knights of Columbus.
Father Sullivan said, “This will be a significant religious event for the city and the state, in the spirit of the new evangelization.”
He said it is particularly meaningful that the Mass is being celebrated on Divine Mercy Sunday to remind the faithful that God’s mercy outweighs his justice.
“In a world of sin and confusion and separation from God, we need to be reminded of his love and forgiveness and always remember the need for us to change.”
The Mountaintop Mass will held rain or shine at 3 pm, April 28. Praise and worship by the Christian group Hands and Feet will start at 1:30, followed by the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 2:30. There will be shuttles to the event along with refreshments, tents and seating. For further information, go to holylandwaterbury.org.