On the solemnity of its namesake, and in a spirit of great joy, St Francis Xavier Parish, Frankston, celebrated the blessing of its new Grotto of Our Lady Mother of Divine Grace on Saturday 9 December. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli presided at the Mass, before leading parishioners outside the church to officially bless the grotto and statue.

In welcoming Archbishop Comensoli, Parish Priest Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp said, ‘We are happy to welcome His Grace to our feast day of St Francis Xavier, and we’re excited for this installation and blessing of the grotto.’ This was the Archbishop’s first time celebrating the Eucharist at St Francis Xavier Church, so the parish was particularly excited to have him there for this special occasion.

In expressing his gratitude for the warm welcome, Archbishop Comensoli revealed ‘a little secret’.

‘St Francis Xavier is one of my three top holy saints,’ he said. ‘They are Mary Magdalene, Peter the Apostle, then Francis Xavier. And number four, if you want to know, is St Paul VI. So they’re my favourites saints, and I’m glad to celebrate the Mass with you, and then to bless the new grotto which you have established.’

Concelebrants included parish priest Fr Chinua, assistant priest Fr Jude Agorchukwu CSSp and Deacon Kevin Pattison.

The grotto, which features a statue of Mary at the top of stairs leading into the grotto, is located at the rear of St Francis Xavier Church. Fr Chinua explained that the grotto installation had cost more than $30,000, with most of the money raised by parishioners.

‘I’d like to thank the parishioners and friends of St Francis Xavier for their hard work in contributing toward the building of the grotto,’ he said. ‘And I want to acknowledge the designer and builder of the grotto, Edwin Ramirez.’ It is hoped the grotto, which also features flowing water at the base, will provide a peaceful place of contemplation and prayer for the community.

The Church recognises in Mary the model and the path and the practice it must follow to reach complete union with Christ.

The rain didn’t dampen any spirits on the evening, as Archbishop Comensoli blessed the new grotto with these words:

We are gathered here in joy for the solemn blessing of this image of the blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady Mother of Divine Grace. This image will remind us of the close ties of Mary to Christ in his Church.

First of all, she is Christ’s mother, the mother of the visible image of the invisible God, but she is also the image and the model of the Church. She is its exemplar. In Mary, the Church joyously contemplates the image of all that the Church itself desires and hopes to be. The Church recognises in Mary the model and the path and the practice it must follow to reach complete union with Christ.

Father, may your children who have provided this image of Mary, know her protection and trace in their hearts the pattern of her holiness. Bless them with faith and hope, love and humility. Bless them with strength in hardship and self-respect in poverty. Bless them with patience in adversity and kind heartedness in times of plenty. May they search for peace, strive for justice, and realise your love as they pursue their journey through life towards your heavenly city, where the Blessed Virgin Mary intercedes as Mother and reigns as Queen.

Following the blessing, Archbishop Peter sprinkled the statue and grotto, and those gathered, with holy water. A celebration followed in the parish hall, with some of the parishioners performing a pantomime of the life of St Francis Xavier. The evening concluded with Archbishop Comensoli cutting a celebratory cake, the singing of carols, and parishioners enjoying good food and each other’s company.

The grotto of Our Lady Mother of Divine Grace is located towards the rear of St Francis Xavier Church, 60 Davey Street, Frankston, near the Xavier Centre (parish hall). For any enquiries, contact St Francis Xavier Parish.