Our Lady of Lourdes and Death March Shrine at night, at the compound of St Peter Claver Church Ranau

By Maria Benedicto & Johnny Apin

Jan 17 2022

THE blessing of Our Lady of Lourdes and Death March Shrine at the compound of St Peter Claver Church Ranau (SPCR) by Archbishop John Wong on Dec 16 was also a moment of looking back to see how it all began for Maria Benedicto and Johnny Apin.

We (Maria and Johnny) would like to share our experience and relate how we started on this “journey of faith, hope and love”.

According to SPCR, the idea to build the Shrine was first inspired three years ago by parish priest Fr Nicholas Stephen together with Fr Francis Tsen.

The first thing that put us on the journey of building the Shrine was our initial love to build a school entrance signage for our beloved SRK St Benedict, Ranau after discussing with the school board of governors and with the rector as its adviser.

SRK St Benedict, Ranau

The turning point came when the rector-adviser suggested the idea to build a shrine. As a result, Maria, as partner and workmate to be in the building of the shrine, was invited to have a discussion with Fr Nicholas on April 28, 2021.

From that day on, my involvement in the construction of the Shrine also kicked off, and went on for the next four months. Our work was more on a voluntary basis rather than as a contractor, though arguably we were responsible for building the Shrine. We took it as a calling for both of us to construct Our Lady of Lourdes and Death March Shrine.

Our response was out of love for Mother Mary, who inspires us. The New Testament account of her humility and obedience to the message of God has made her an exemplar for all ages to Christians, to people who are sick and dying. Christians have sought Mary’s intercession in times of serious illness including pestilence, plagues and death. As a loving mother, Mary always responds with the comforting and healing grace of her Son.

The project started with zero funds but with the donation of a 5-foot statue of Mother Mary by a generous donor. Starting on May 13, 2021 we began to source for the much-needed funds. We began with our close friends, who were either in or out of the country, some as far as the Middle East and Canada.

Fundraising was extended to individuals in various sectors and at various social levels. They understood that the funds were for the building of the Shrine, and some preferred their donations to be kept “anonymous”.

Meanwhile, the ideas for the design of the Shrine were contributed by Maria and other various parties. Construction was based on creativity, appropriateness and spirituality.

Our initial challenges were to choose materials, equipment and cost as the price of materials have soared during the pandemic and were very limited. But with careful planning, as well as good communication, all went well.

The ground breaking took place on September 15, 2021, paving for the construction work to begin. With a work team of eight people, including the two of us, the Shrine soon became a reality. Works included masonry design, landscaping, drainage, wiring and lighting effects.

The historic moment came when the statue of Mary was placed on one of the pillars on October 26, 2021. The anxious moments, mixed with joy, were tangible.

After placing securely on the pillar, what looked like a “light from the sky” seemed to be quite visible above the statue. Maria could not help but expressed “Lost souls have found a path of hope and serenity.”

Throughout the days and months of the construction phase, various challenges were encountered, including phases of delays due to lack of supplies and unpredictable weather conditions. This also included the health and emotional state of the employees.

The shrine team workers (from left) Mario, Alan, Robert, Maria, Rodrigue (squat), Fr Nick, Crane Operator and Johnny

The final touch in the construction work of the Shrine was to see that all its arrangements and appearances have unique meanings and concepts.

Though the combination of fountain and Japanese light has its own story, the story of defeat, harmony and universal victory and how finally a space or place to pray for lost souls, comes out strong and hopeful.

The concept of building was also based on the grandeur and architecture of the time of Christ, which the expertise of our employees was able to deliver. For this, we were very proud of them.

The function of the Shrine was made clearer by the presence of written prayer words, and a place to light candles, as a tangible sign and belief that lost souls are prayed for.

Our journey of faith, hope, and love reminds us about the importance of having a strong relationship with Jesus through the maternal love of the Virgin Mary, and the angels of Heaven, as well as the value of the power of prayer.

In sum, it has been a blessing for us to accept this call. This would not have been possible without the support of all parties, especially all the donors who came forward to donate in order to realize the construction and make the Shrine a reality.

We remain grateful to Archbishop John Wong for also officiating the SRK St Benedict, our beloved school which has started it all. We hope the next generation can come forward to contribute to our alma mater in any form.

We are certainly grateful and touched by the support and sacrifice of our family. Certainly, the date of 16 December 2021 would be remembered forever. We are very proud to be a part of this event.