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Faithful flock to Shrine of Christ’s Passion for Stations of the Cross

Frank Schilling stood at the highest point at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John on Good Friday overlooking the prayer trail where the Stations of the Cross were being led by the Most Rev. Bishop Robert J. McClory.

Schilling was trying to count the sea of people who packed the winding prayer trail almost from the first station near U.S. 41 to the last just below the parking lot to St. John the Evangelist Church during the event. That doesn’t count the visitors who already had come and gone or who showed up for self-guided tours throughout the day. Visitors started showing up at 6:30 a.m. Friday, he said.

“Every year it gets bigger. It’s spreading like wildfire,” Schilling said as he gazed over the crowd.

Well more than 2,000 faithful of all ages and walks of life came to pay their devotion on Good Friday, the day for believers when Christ sacrificed himself to save them from their sins.

Some people arrived early to pray to the Virgin Mary in the parking lot of the church or to lay flowers and gifts at the feet of the statute of Christ on Calvary. Families pushed baby strollers. Others attend with walkers and wheelchairs.

“All I can say is we as a family have been very blessed,” Schilling said. What has become the Shrine was started by his grandfather in 1956 with the Great Lady on U.S. 41.

“It just kind of all came together. It just seemed appropriate. No doubt it would not have been done without the Holy Spirit,” Schilling said.

“It’s said we are all put on this earth to do good – every single human. I’m just very blessed to be able to take it to the level it will be shared with hundreds of thousands of people,” Schilling said.

He says people are drawn to the Shrine because it is a physical destination that engages all of the senses.

“What I really find heartwarming is all the parents bringing their children here,” Schilling said.

Dean Schilling said it is amazing to see so many people come and share their faith at the Shrine.

“I’m very proud of my mom and dad for the vision to come with this idea,” Dean Shilling said. The family began working on the development 20 years ago with 30 bronze statues. Now there are 48. There is also a family plaza to help illustrate what it was like when Christ lived, and the Our Lady of Guadalupe Plaza honoring the Virgin Mary’s visit to Mexican peasant Juan Diego, among other attractions.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Frank Schilling said.

Raquel and David Zaragoza, of Chicago, were visiting the Shrine with their two young children Nicholas, 5, and Charlotte, 2, her parents and her brother. It’s become a newer component of their family tradition to come to the Shrine during Holy Week, she said.

Raquel Zaragoza said that as Catholics the Passion of Christ is an important part of their religious culture. The couple wants to show their children the significance of Easter and teach them to be grateful for the sacrifices that have been made for them.

“It’s not just about baskets from the Easter Bunny,” she said.

Zaragoza’s father Jesus Mora, also of Chicago, said the sacrifices Christ made are important to learn about. It is something he taught to his daughter and son, and now his daughter is sharing those lessons with her children.

Simple sacrifices like fasting or giving up a vice like gum or cigarettes are only part of it, Mora said.

“There are still other things that are more important,” Zora said. People need to make time to get together with family and to get along with everyone.

Deborah Phillips of Willowbrook, Illinois, and Patricia Hess of Homewood, Illinois, brought their mother, Babara Cervenka of Countryside, Illinois, out for the afternoon.

“It’s just peaceful here,” Phillips said, adding she thought it would be crowded but was still surprised by the number of people.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com