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The Florida Church Whose Worshipers Are All Tourists

Easter Sunday is a busy time for many Christian churches. And for one Florida church, "busy" only begins to describe it. The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe has no permanent members, but it will host tens of thousands of worshipers today.

That's because the church is across the street from Walt Disney World. The main basilica was built in the early 1990s, to give visitors to the resort complex a place to worship. As its website clarifies, Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine is not a parish church.

The shrine is holding eight Easter Masses today; the first began at 7:30 this morning, and the last will begin at 6 tonight. To handle the large crowds, the basilica is using an overflow tent that can hold 1,000 people.

From Orlando, Amy Kiley of member station WMFE reports:

"The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe hosts about 35,000 Catholics on Easter Sunday – and none are church members.

"Tourists started the ministry at Disney World before funding the basilica. Director of Operations Gina Schwiegerath says the shrine needs a tent for overflow crowds.

" 'People from all over the world, all over the nation, gather together in one place, and for that hour, you're not people from all over the world,' Schwiegerath says. 'We're a Catholic community sharing in the Body of Christ, which is amazing.'

"The church and tent have about 3,700 seats. Still, nearly 1,800 people stand during the busiest Easter Masses."

The shrine's complex has grown over the years; the property includes a gift shop, in addition to a museum and gardens.

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