Nestled in the Glasshouse Mountains, inland from the Gold Coast south of Brisbane, lies the Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians at Marian Valley, a beautiful centre of retreat and pilgrimage which lifts the soul to God through his Son and his blessed Mother, Mary.
Marian Valley was established by an order of Polish monks, the Pauline Fathers, just 11 years ago, to give effect to what was then just a dream, a retreat centre in rural Queensland under the patronage of Australia's patroness, Our Lady Help of Christians.
The Pauline Fathers also have parishes and shrines in Victoria and New South Wales.
The current head of the Marian Valley community is an Australian, Fr Columba Macbeth-Green, who is assisted by Fr Gabriel Taylor and Brother Luke.
Through the extraordinary energy of the Pauline Fathers and the Shrine's devoted band of volunteers, it has been transformed from a single house into a magnificent religious complex, consisting of the original homestead (now a residential block), Black Madonna Chapel, a large roofed area for open air Masses and Benedictions, a dozen Madonna Shrines, life-size Stations of the Cross, a retreat centre with Adoration Chapel, education centre, gift shop, and associated buildings.
Despite its size, it retains its character as a centre of prayer.
Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Marian Valley, particularly on Feast Days devoted to the large number of Marian shrines at the centre, to participate in Masses, Eucharistic Processions, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, devotions, days of reflection, spiritual retreats, and reception of the sacraments.
Marian Valley comes into its own on Feast Days, when crowds ranging from 100 to as many as 2,000 come to the Shrine to celebrate Mass and participate in processions in honour to Our Lady.
Many of the processions are linked with particular nationalities which have erected Shrines at Marian Valley.
The Polish community has a close historic link with Marian Valley, and regularly, large crowds of Polish- Australians visit to celebrate Mass and pray before the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the Black Madonna Chapel.
Italian Australians have recently constructed a shrine to St Gerard Majella, after erecting another in honour of the recently-canonised St Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. On feast days, they come in their hundreds.
Spanish and Latin American Catholics have erected a beautiful shrine in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Mexican Indian peasant, St Diego, to whom the Mother of God appeared in about 1532.
The Dutch community comes to Marian Valley to pray at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, and the sick and the elderly have a day of special devotion at the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, commemorating the appearance of Mary, to a French teenager, Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858.
Sri Lankan Catholics visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, patroness of Sri Lanka, who has protected the Catholic population in times of persecution.
Indian Catholics pray at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health, Vailankanni, to celebrate the apparitions of Our Lady to poor boys in Tamil Nadu, southern India, in the 17th century.
Many other communities visit the shrine, including Ukrainian, Lebanese, Timorese and Filipino people, as well as Catholic and Muslim members of the Eritrean community, who also have devotion to Our Lady.
Shrines to Our Lady of Mt Carmel and Our Lady of Fatima are particular centres of devotion.
Marian Valley thus serves an important function in holding together communities which would possibly be isolated from the mainstream of Australian life, and provides a spiritual home which would not otherwise be available to them. It is clear that this is deeply appreciated by many migrant communities.
Many smaller groups also visit Marian Valley for retreats and days of recollection, including Anglican and Catholic church groups.
During Holy Week, large crowds attend the Stations of the Cross and the Holy Week liturgies commemorating the Last Supper, Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Additionally, the simple but beautiful Divine Mercy Eucharistic Adoration Chapel is open every day for private devotion before the Blessed Sacrament.
In order to cater for groups and individual pilgrims, the Pauline Fathers have also constructed the St Joseph's Retreat Centre in the grounds where people can stay in self-contained accommodation (for up to 14), enjoying the spiritual richness of Marian Valley in a beautifully landscaped natural environment where one feels always close to the Australian bush.
At the shrine, retreats are offered for small groups, based around daily Mass, reception of Holy Communion, Adoration, confession, counselling and spiritual direction, offered by the Pauline Fathers. People attending group retreats are also able to bring in their own retreat masters.
Priests from the Brisbane Archdiocese and other parts of Australia regularly visit Marian Valley to recharge the batteries and share in the spiritual riches available at the shrine.
At a time when people are increasingly busy and surrounded by an overwhelmingly secular culture where religious belief is too often dismissed or ignored, the Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians at Marian Valley is a beacon of light and hope for many thousands of Australians.