By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Down through history, beautifully embellished church domes have served as a bridge between heaven and earth for faithful who stood or knelt in prayer beneath them.
And even in this age, when humans routinely traverse the skies, these celestial gateways remain a great source of wonder, drawing the eye, moving the heart and compelling praise from all who view them.
So it was on Nov. 4 when 2,000 pilgrims arrived in the vast nave of Washington D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. There, they lifted their eyes to the domes overhead where brilliant mosaics depicting the Triumph of the Lamb, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Redemption and the Incarnation serve as visual emblems of faith.
On this day, many pilgrims were also excited about being among the first ever on a diocesan trip to behold the newly completed Trinity Dome, which depicts the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Mother under the title of the Immaculate Conception and America’s 13 saints.
Among those positioned in the central aisle and stretching his neck to command as good a view as possible of the new dome, was Philip Clingerman, from St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown. His interest was especially nuanced because of many visits made when his son, William, was a student at The Catholic University of America, which shares a campus with the Basilica.
The elder Clingerman, who is himself studying for the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Trenton, studied the new dome with a father’s eye as he eagerly awaited the arrival of his seminarian son, a second year pre-theology student attending Mount St. Mary Seminary in nearby Emmitsburg, Md.
William was to join his father before vesting to serve at Mass for Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and scores of diocesan clergy later in the day. Philip, whose donation was part of the $100,000 contributed by the Diocese toward the Trinity Dome Project, made it plain that he couldn’t wait to share the sight with his son.
“What is so wonderful and amazing and powerful is to have [so many] people from around the Diocese come to Our Lady’s House bringing their energy and love. All the people of different backgrounds, all growing in holiness and we get to be the first diocese” to see the Trinity Dome, Clingerman said.
“I was very much wanting to see the completion,” he said. “When I was here for my son’s Baccalaureate (Mass), the scaffolding was up. It is so exciting to see the scaffolding down and the finished work. After so many visits, it is just wonderful to look up.”
Unlike Clingerman, who knew well in advance about the dome work and anticipated seeing it, many pilgrims were first apprised of it during the welcome they received from Msgr. Vito A. Buonanno.
As director of pilgrimages at the National Shrine, he highlighted the Trinity Dome in his remarks and thanked the Diocese for its generous contributions. His remarks directed attention to the dome, which will not be lit until its formal dedication on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Joseph and Catherine Connors of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, were making the pilgrimage for the third time. When the morning gathering concluded, they acted on Msgr. Buonanno’s recommendation and made a point of settling where they could reflect on the new dome.
The couple admired the dome’s beauty, and looked forward to coming back when it is lighted. Catherine shared, “I think it will be really beautiful when they put the light on. …With it being in the center crossing of the shrine, everyone will be in awe.”
Tri Nguyen, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, Freehold, and a camera buff, shot 126 pictures overall during the pilgrimage. Many were of the new dome, which he described as remarkable.
“As it wasn’t lit up, I didn’t know if the pictures would be good but, with Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary and the American saints, it made a nice panorama,” said Nguyen, who was accompanied by his wife, Linh, and their two children, Tristan, 13, and Paige, 6.
He was moved by the fact that his family was among the first to see the new dome. “It was a wonderful first time experience,” he said.