When staff at the Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, 7740 S. Western Ave., began planning its Festival of Peace last fall, they never dreamt the world would be in such turmoil when they held their event March 25. They also didn’t know Pope Francis would call on Catholics around the world to consecrate humanity, and especially Ukraine and Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that day. “We decided to do this about five months ago, so there was no war,” said Augustinian Friar Tom McCarthy, shrine director. “We just wanted to do something, especially after COVID, to get people back.” The festival opened with Mass at noon followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament until 11:45 p.m. Priests offered confession from noon until midnight. Visitors prayed the rosary at 1, 5 and 7 p.m., and the Divine Mercy Chaplet was prayed at 3 p.m. Musicians led praise and worship music from 8 to 11:30 p.m. People were encouraged to write prayer intentions on slips of paper and place them in a basket before the altar. They could also light candles and place them before the altar. At 5 p.m., St. Rita High School’s Fathers’ Club opened a bistro in the school’s dining hall offering free food and beverages. Visitors could also play pool, pingpong or foosball in the McCarthy Center in the evening. The evening was directed at youth and young adults, and it offered an opportunity to pray, eat and play, McCarthy said. The inspiration for a festival of peace came out of McCarthy’s experience of Nightfever locally, an evening in which young adults invite people in off the streets to light a candle and pray in front of the Eucharist. There is also music, and priests are available for confession or just to talk. “I fell in love with it,” McCarthy said. When he was transferred to Villanova University in Pennsylvania, McCarthy started a Festival of Forgiveness on campus, with 24 hours of adoration and confession in the campus church. It drew large groups of students. “So when I came back to the shrine, I said, ‘We need to do that here,’” McCarthy said. Peace was the end goal of the event, McCarthy said. “What brings us peace? Jesus and his mother, Mary. He gave us Mary,” he said. “So I hope peace, and I hope people know that they are not alone and that in the midst of this world, what’s going on coming out of COVID and still wondering what’s happening, and what’s going on in Ukraine, that there’s a place to be at peace.” The shrine, like all shrines, is meant to be a place of pilgrimage where people can come and be at peace and celebrate the sacraments. “We want to bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus,” he said. Sheila Garvey came to the festival in the afternoon with her sons Jack and Joe. “We’re here to support St. Rita, but also to remind ourselves to pray for others and pray for ourselves in this Lenten season,” Garvey said. “It feels good to be back after two years of the pandemic.” She and her family are involved with St. Rita High School and are regular visitors to the chapel. “Honestly, it’s a beautiful chapel. Any excuse we can come and celebrate our faith and pray for our loved ones we do,” Garvey said. Catherine Viz and her sister Diana came for the noon Mass and stayed until the Divine Mercy Chaplet was prayed at 3 p.m. They regularly attend the monthly novena to St. Rita at the chapel. She remembers McCarthy announcing the event several months ago at the end of a novena. “It just really shows the Holy Spirit and God’s will because of all of these things unfolding with Ukraine,” she said. “Just a lot of craziness seemed to happen in the world after he announced it. It only made it that much more important for us to show up.” “It’s just really great to have so much time to pray, go to confession, go to Mass and kind of just bond with everyone here at St. Rita,” Diana Viz said.