The interior of the new St. John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy in downtown Salem. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe
Help us expand our reach! Please share this article
SALEM -- Salem has long been associated with witches and the occult, but a new shrine in the city aims to connect people to a different kind of supernatural power -- Divine Mercy.
St. John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy sits at the center of Salem, close to the Peabody Essex Museum and on a route of one of the town's many "haunted" tours. The new shrine is housed in what was formerly St. John the Baptist Church. On Aug. 1, St. John the Baptist Parish, a Polish national parish, was suppressed as part of a plan that also saw the merging of two other Salem parishes, St. James and Immaculate Conception, and St. John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy was born in St. John's place.
Speaking to The Pilot Oct. 19 at the rectory neighboring the shrine, rector Father Robert Bedzinski said the new shrine "is a place where people can come and take some light from Jesus."
A priest of the Society of Christ, Father Bedzinski has only been in the Massachusetts area for about a month, and has previously served in locations across the world, including in Poland, Canada, Kazakstan, Chicago, and Detroit.
He said he enjoys being at the shrine, although he admitted October is a "little crazy" in Salem.
"There are many visitors -- they are dressed like ghosts, and vampires, and stuff like this," he said with a laugh.
Salem's long history with the occult is one of the reasons the Archdiocese of Boston chose to erect the shrine in the city.
Speaking to The Pilot in August, Bishop Mark O'Connell, bishop of the archdiocese's North Region and an instrumental figure in the erection of the shrine, said he hopes the shrine can be a space of eucharistic adoration and worship of the Divine Mercy.
Because Salem is a "center for tourism and because of its attraction to all of the occult things, it's the ideal place, we think, to place a shrine of prayer and adoration, to combat and kind of fall-off of the evil that is there," he said.
The shrine, too, he said, will also serve the "small, but healthy" Polish community, filling the space left by the suppression of St. John the Baptist Parish. Currently, the shrine holds Masses in Polish and in English.
Named for Pope St. John Paul II the shrine will have the upper church dedicated to the late pope, said Father Bedzinski. Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley has pledged to donate his own personal first-class relic of the saint to the shrine, and Father Bedzinski is waiting for a relic of St. Faustina, another Polish saint, so that a side chapel may be turned into an area of devotion to her. The lower church is dedicated to Divine Mercy, which was heavily promoted by St. Faustina.
In a video message on the shrine's new website, www.JPIIDivineMercyShrine.org, Cardinal O'Malley spoke on the importance of shrines.
"Shrines, in the lives of Catholics, are very important institutions. People go in huge numbers," he said. "We hope this can be a welcoming place people can go and be renewed in their faith."