The

Shrine

The Story

The Vision

In the very late 90’s my angel came to me in a vision and took me into the mountains. From the sky, high above a very distinctive mountain, we looked down upon a great courtyard and shrine nestled below the eastern face of the mountain. He gently led me down into the entrance and we walked up. Coming in, I was enthralled by the view as you walked up the steps to the entrance. The mountain had a distinctive peak and, on either side, a couple of ridges that felt like shoulders to the peak. Mimicking it was the church in the distance, with a tall central spire/peak and two subordinate spires on either side. I thought that this was a place of epiphany, where heaven and earth meet. The mountain is God’s majestic creation and mirroring it was man’s creation of the Shrine – reaching up to God’s creation. Having straddled two worlds all my life, I had the joyful sense that this was home for me.

As we went through the entrance, a great crowd had gathered in the long courtyard on this sunny, mild day. My angel gave me to know that this was the day of dedication of this Shrine. To my surprise, presiding over the ceremonies was one of my priests – Fr. M, wearing a pale yellow vestment with an intricate, elegant design. And I knew this was in the future, for though Fr. M still had a baby face, his black hair was perfectly white now. It gave him an air of distinction without robbing him of any of his joyful enthusiasm. Also sitting near the dais was my 12-year-old son, now a lanky early middle-aged man. As soon as Fr. M began to speak, my angel took me to tour the inside of the church and through some of the substantial buildings on either side of the courtyard and little chapels and shrines to various saints. It was breathtaking.

At my next visit with Fr. M, I told him of this, describing it in much detail – and particularly the mountain, which I was certain was in the Rockies somewhere. He was both moved and surprised. He told me he often ran retreats at a place called St. Malo’s near Denver that sounded very much like what I was describing AND he told me that his order was involved in long-range planning to build a great Shrine in North America. And in fact, my first director had been the initiating force behind those nascent plans. I told him that the Shrine I saw would be the place of pilgrimage for after the Storm – to which people from around the world would come to give thanks for our rescue. For the record, I wrote him a letter describing it and making some (very primitive) drawings of what I saw.

For reasons more complicated than I want to elaborate on, for almost a decade I refused to look at any pictures of the mountain he was talking about. During that time, he and some others proposed alternate sites to me. There was a big interest in doing it near Los Angeles. For each of these, I simply told everyone that the site for THE Shrine was to be in the Rockies. They could build any shrine they wanted elsewhere, but for THE Shrine, I knew definitively it would be in the Rockies. I did not know for sure it would be at this site, for I had never looked at it, but it was the only one that those in the know considered a possibility.

The Location

One of the arguments advanced against it was that this site was very remote and difficult to get to – that a Los Angeles site would be much more accessible. I told them that the world after the Storm would be very different; that people would not be so eager for the easy way and quick gratification. In fact, they would want a sense of pilgrimage when they came to give thanks, however they came – so that would be a feature of the Colorado site, not a defect. It was also argued that St. Malo’s already had an active retreat center, so it was unavailable anyway. I replied that I had never looked at it, so that may be… but that I knew the mountain and would recognize it immediately – and that it was in the Rockies. If it was at the spot of St. Malo’s, God would carve out a way.

And so it went for about a decade. Then, in early 2008, Fr. M called me. He was chaplain of an Opus Dei house at a major American University. A man who had been an undergrad there (I’ll call him Todd, though that is not his real name) was now coming back for the equivalent of his Ph.D. in architecture – called a terminal project. They had spoken of the Shrine and the man was so taken with it that he wanted to do the initial design as his terminal project. Fr. M asked if it was okay to give him my phone number. That was just fine.

Todd and I talked at length several times. I sent him as good a description as I could (lengthy, anyway) and drew a few more primitive pictures. We traded several phone calls to clarify different issues. Then he told me he was going to go to Europe for six months to study the various styles involved. I gulped. I don’t mind taking responsibility for what I report from my visitations, but I knew that now I had to get online and actually look at Mt. Meeker. I couldn’t risk letting Todd go off to Europe and have to tell him later that that was not the site or the mountain. So I went online to look it up. It packed an emotional wallop I cannot quite describe when I first looked at it and saw, in this world, the distinctive mountain I had first been shown in the vision a decade earlier. I was in tears. I got another surprise. I had read an article on a lovely stone chapel in Colorado, the Chapel of St. Catherine of Sienna a year or so earlier.

I thought it so beautiful I made it the screensaver on my computer. I had no idea it was actually at the foot of Mt. Meeker and at the entrance to the site of what will one day be the Shrine – because the picture I had did not have Meeker in the background. But I was relieved. Everyone knew how dicey it is to work from visions, but at least within the context of what I saw, I now was content that I had sent Todd barking up the right tree, anyway.

St. Catherine’s
Chapel on the Rock

For nearly 85 years, the Chapel on the Rock at Camp St. Malo has stood the test of time and survived weather hardships such as fires and floods.

Learn more >

The Design

When he returned, Todd and I swapped emails… he sent me some first drawings. I had seen a kind of spire – actually more like an elongated pyramid atop the churches in my vision. He had drawn domes. I didn’t fuss over that. He liked the domes – and they were beautiful. But when he sent me an aerial view of the courtyard and grounds it was way too square and boxy. It had to be elongated like a rectangle. He told me that the elevations of the grounds there made that very difficult, maybe impossible. On that point, I told him there was no ambiguity on what I saw and he really needed to work it to solve the problem. Several weeks later, he sent me a note that he had done it – and told me that the effect would be exactly as I had first described to him; visitors coming up the stairs into the entrance would be greeted with a breathtaking view of the domes mirroring the mountains behind them. Along with the note was an attachment of the new drawing. The emotional impact when I opened the new drawing was as great as when I first looked at a photo of Mt. Meeker, itself. What he had drawn was exactly what I had seen, from exactly the same perspective, when Gabriel had first taken me down for the dedication. Again, I was in tears.

I was dazzled some months later to learn that Todd got highest marks for his project – and, in fact, won the award for best Classical Design of the year. He did a beautiful job – and there were a lot of difficulties inherent to that ground. When finished, it will be the largest Shrine on the North American continent.

Charlie’s Pilgrimage

In the spring of 2010 I began planning for a walking pilgrimage across the country. The Lord told me we were about to enter the fullness of the Storm – and this was to be my final preparation. As I have said elsewhere, I did not understand this plan at all. I was almost indignant. My response to the Lord was something like this: “You have been telling me all my life a great Storm is going to come upon the world. Now you are telling me we are at the border of it – and your plan for me is to take an extended hike?!” I pointed out that, though I hide it well, I am neurologically crippled. He just smiled – and I just obeyed, projecting absolute confidence outwardly while wondering privately. I came to see it actually was the perfect plan – and why God’s wisdom and ways are so much greater than ours. I will discuss that another time. The pilgrimage was not for the Shrine: rather, it was throwing myself on a radical dependence on God and as an offering for our poor, bleeding world. But what else could be the destination than the future site of the Shrine? Besides, I had been directed that my public work of proclaiming God’s message for the Storm must begin from Colorado, near the site of the Shrine.

While I was walking, one of my priests called to tell me that the Retreat Center at St. Malo’s had burned down – that was on November 14, 2011. One building was completely destroyed and the other so badly damaged by smoke, it might have to come down. We both wondered about this. The argument that there was already an active center there got a lot weaker. I kept walking.

On July 8, 2012, I saw Mt. Meeker for the first time in this life. It was from quite a distance – and I did not know that that is what I saw until the next day. I had made camp near a reservoir in Loveland, Colorado. I was excited because, after walking for ages in the high plains, this was the first day I could see the mountains in the distance. Looking west by southwest across the reservoir, the sun set brilliantly behind the highest of the peaks I could see. I snapped a picture of the sight, which I reprint here. You can’t actually see Mt. Meeker in the photo – it is obscured by the brilliant light of the setting sun. I eagerly called Fr. M and told him I was finally in sight of the mountains – and of the brilliant sunset I had just seen and snapped with the camera. He told me it was possible, given the direction I was describing, that that was Mt. Meeker. There was a welcome center in Loveland. I walked there the next day and struck up a conversation with the volunteer manning the desk. When I pointed to a peak and asked him if he knew what mountain that was, he said, “Oh, that’s Meeker.”

I had always planned to go into the mountain for a Novena at the same time I did my annual August Novena to Our Lady of Fatima – which would be from Aug. 13 to 21. My son flew out to visit with me the last week before I went into the mountain. We went to visit the site, which was breathtaking. I befriended the caretaker there and told him what I would be doing. While I was there with my son a few days before I would go into the mountain, I did a little trumpet fanfare at the base of the site. Yeah, I know I cracked a note in the middle. On the last leg of my journey, I did that fanfare once a day. In the midst of my Novena, I went up from my campsite deep into the mountain – and did that fanfare every hour. On one occasion, the noise of the trumpet helped persuade a bear to stay on his side of the ravine I passed.

Song of Thanksgiving

Kitty Cleveland’s rendition of Charlie’s trumpet fanfare

The Mountain

On the day of that preliminary visit, the caretaker, and a woman who sometimes volunteered there, offered to show me the John Paul II trail. I asked what it was. For those of you who remember St. John Paul’s visit to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993, you may remember he went walking in the mountains one day. I remembered the news photos from the time, but I did not know until this day that he had gone into the mountain right behind St. Malo’s where I would go into the mountain. Then I got another surprise to discover that the day he went walking up that trail was August 13, 1993 – precisely 19 years before the day I would make my way into the mountain for nine days from the same trail. I was getting a few goosebumps.

For the nine days I spent in the mountain, I ate trail mix, cheese and crackers, and some fudge and maple candies that some ladies had given me. I refreshed my water bottles from the nearby stream each day. Once, three bears came by my tent just before dusk. I lay very quietly, hoping they would go away. They did. It was nine days of intensive prayer and reflection. I read mainly from Catherine Doherty’s books on Poustinia, the desert and pilgrim spirituality of old Mother Russia.

When I came out of the mountain, the caretaker drove me to nearby Estes Park where I ate at a McDonalds…had three big burgers (I was tired of trail mix!). Sister Lucille, the hermitess who ran the poustinia cabins way up in a mountain about nine miles east of Estes Park, had told me she would come off the mountain and get me when I came out of my mountain so we could visit for a few days. I stayed in one of the poustinia cabins by her and we visited for three days.

The poustinia cabin I stayed in for three days after coming out of the mountain. A section of this photo is what is the banner photo atop this website.

 

The Hope

Sometime after I had gone back to normal life, I got word that they were seriously considering rebuilding the retreat center at St. Malo’s. I had told the appropriate officials what was needed there – and told them it would be best that construction begin before the fullness of the Storm that it might be a sign of hope even as the Storm got more violent – a sort of act of faith writ large. But few took me seriously – and the ones who did were not in a situation to decide. They wanted to rebuild.
Last September came the devastating floods in Colorado that made international news, wiping out bridges, completely isolating entire small towns. The epicenter of it was at Mt. Meeker. Massive rock and mud slides wiped away much of the forest where I had made camp, and remade the landscape of the entire site. It was incredible devastation. But while this wiped out remaining hopes of rebuilding the retreat center, the statue of the Virgin Mary at the property was untouched – as was the simple rustic marker for the St. John Paul II trail, though boulders and whole uprooted trees came pouring through on either side of it.

People often ask me what the status of the Shrine is. Nothing is going on now in this world. (Update – they are planning to turn one of the surviving ancillary buildings into a museum now, but there are no current plans for the place where the Shrine will be). The retreat center is gone and will not return. It would have been better to get started. But I know what God intends there – as I have known since 1998. And despite so many good people telling me why it could not be, every time someone has tried to commit the land to something long-term and permanent that is not the Shrine, God has intervened. I don’t trouble any officials about it anymore. I have done my duty. Whatever they think, this Shrine will be built there – and it will be ready for dedication within two more decades. I expect to be gone by then. If you’re still around, I hope you will come out for the dedication – and say a little prayer for me as you give thanks for the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. Funny thing, no matter what man plans, in the end, God always gets His way.

Charlie Johnston

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