This past Saturday, I joined 1,500 other Catholics from the Diocese of Bridgeport on a pilgrimage. Our destination was the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and the purpose of our journey was to attend a Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank Caggiano, followed by a dedication of a brand-new Rosary Walk & Garden, featuring a new statue of Our Lady of Fatima and the visionaries.
Most of the pilgrims traveled to the Shrine via coach bus, while others arrived by car. Traditionally, pilgrims in the Middle Ages traveled to holy sites and shrines on foot, and the journey of many days, even months, would make our 6 hour bus and car rides certainly look more luxurious than they felt. Sitting in traffic going over the George Washington Bridge might not be quite as difficult as walking hundreds of miles on foot, but it is its own type of penance.
I had visited the National Shrine on several other occasions, including for the March for Life, and while visiting friends who attended the Catholic University of America. However, each time I visit the Basilica, I’m momentarily breath-taken by its beauty; from the sheer size of the church building itself, the intricate mosaics, the side altars, the cool and peaceful crypt Church, and the beautiful grounds that surround the Basilica. For many people in the pilgrimage group, it was their first time visiting the largest Catholic Church in North America, and they were visibly awed and impressed at the sight. The ages of our pilgrims included my five month old son (baby Leo the Great), a group of middle school students, high school groups, families, adults, and seniors. Through the eyes of my fellow pilgrims, I appreciated the beauty and grandeur of “Mary’s Shrine,” and I was reminded at the importance of pilgrimages to Catholic shrines as a way to strengthen our own faith.
In our day to day lives, we can settle into too comfortable of a rhythm. We go to the same places see the same people, watch the same TV shows, and listen to the same music. We become complacent, and even bored, almost without realizing it. In spite of our best efforts to stay close to God and stay strong in our faith, it is too easy to live a mediocre faith, and to forget about the richness and depth of our Catholic faith, and the mysteries that we proclaim as truth.
A pilgrimage, especially to a place as beautiful as the National Shrine, helps to awaken our sense of wonder in the greatness of our God and his immense love and generosity for his people. It was a gift to participate in the Mass celebrated by our passionate and articulate Bishop, surrounded by our brothers and sisters in Christ, and uplifted by the music of the Choir for Youth and the Shrine’s cantor and organist.
This morning I attended our usual daily Mass in our small, quiet chapel in the Catholic Center. It was outwardly very different from my experience on Saturday, but at the same time, it was exactly the same. Regardless of whether we are in an expansive basilica, or a stark, simple chapel, Jesus Christ is Lord. He is our Lord and our God here in our homes, in our work-places, in our every day lives. We need to make time for experiences like pilgrimages, which remind us of the truths we may have temporarily forgotten, and encourage us on our journeys to our heavenly home.