Editor's Note: On June 26, 2020, Martyrs' Shrine announced that it will remain closed to the public until at least May 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article was originally published on May 25, 2020.
Traditionally, spending time in the church and on the grounds of Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, Ont., would include praying with relics of St. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions, as well as a spiritual conversation with a Jesuit priest. These experiences were the cornerstones of support for the thousands of pilgrims who visited the shrine. Yet the fallout of COVID-19 has sadly reached Martyrs' Shrine.
Physical distancing measures introduced by governments and local health authorities have prevented the Jesuit fathers from providing their usual apostolic outreach. This has created a new financial reality for Martyrs' Shrine, which has led them to seek support from long-time pilgrims and friends, so their work and mission can continue.
Without visiting pilgrims, the shrine's revenues have been severely impacted, putting the national shrine in financial jeopardy. A fundraising campaign is being prepared to help raise $358,000 to close the shrine's projected budgetary shortfall in 2020.
Fr. Michael Knox, SJ, Director of Martyrs' Shrine, remains hopeful for the future, despite the present struggles.
"The Jesuit fathers and I know that this situation is only temporary," said Fr. Knox.
"One day soon, Martyrs' Shrine will once again be able to welcome the many thousands of pilgrims who journey here every year to deepen their relationship [with God], through St. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions."
Martyrs' Shrine staff continue working behind the scenes to implement measures that will ensure the health and safety of visitors once the grounds can re-open.
Staff at the shrine are optimistic that a Saturday, July 4, 2020 opening date can be achieved. Should restrictions on gatherings be eased enough to allow the shrine to open, it will do so with a limited visitor capacity, allowing for pilgrims to attend Mass in the Church of St. Joseph, and enjoy some of the open spaces for prayer and recreation.
Pending opening on July 4, the shrine will only be open on weekends. The grounds behind the church, including the Papal Field, will remain closed.
The shrine is currently reporting that all 2020 pilgrimages have been postponed until 2021, and with the current financial situation, the hiring of seasonal staff has been cancelled.
But these difficulties have allowed the shrine to adapt some of its ministerial and spiritual services to an online format.
Fr. Knox and the staff say they will be working with pilgrimage leaders to ensure that cultural communities can still be celebrated and prayed for at Martyrs' Shrine over the course of the 2020 season; even though their pilgrimages have been postponed until next year.
"We invite pilgrims to visit our website, where they can watch Sunday Mass in the Church of St. Joseph," Fr. Knox said. "Have a candle lit in our votary for their intentions, read a weekly reflection, chat online with a Jesuit priest through e-mail and make a donation should you wish to support our mission."
"The Jesuit community, here at Martyrs' Shrine, continues to pray, every day, for all of our pilgrims – especially the sick and the essential workers that care for them – and for the healing of the world."
To watch Sunday Mass in the Church of St. Joseph, please visit the Martyrs' Shrine website. www.martyrsshrine.com/mass There, you can also find out how to contact the Martyrs' Shrine or learn more details about its current plans and financial realities.