Local Catholics invited to historic pilgrimage

In the autumn of 1959, a number of articles ran in the Catholic Star Herald promoting the dedication of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It was almost 40 years since the groundbreaking had taken place, but after much hard work and generosity on the part of Catholics throughout the country, as well as after interruptions in construction because of the Great Depression and two World Wars, the historic moment of the Shrine’s dedication finally took place on Nov. 20, 1959.

Representatives of dioceses from throughout the country attended the ceremonies and one of the bishops present in the newly completed sanctuary that day was Justin J. McCarthy, the second bishop of Camden. At that time, the Diocese of Camden was in its 22nd year.

This year, as we celebrate the milestone 75th anniversary of the founding of our diocese, one of the important events will be the Marian pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine which will take place on Saturday, Oct. 13. The Marian pilgrimage is a great tradition in the Diocese of Camden and it usually takes place every other year. This time, though, it is even more significant because it coincides with the anniversary year; an occasion for our local church to make a pilgrimage to “Mary’s House” and to worship God, honor his Mother, who is the patroness of our diocese, and to ask for her intercession as we give thanks for the past 75 years of grace and now move forward into the future.

Much has changed since the time of both the founding of the diocese as well as the dedication of the National Shrine. Nevertheless, the loving help of the Blessed Mother is still what sustains the Diocese of Camden, and her continued prayers, her intercession that we will invoke on the pilgrimage day, is what ensures a blessed future for us.

A pilgrimage is a sacred journey to a shrine or holy place where God is praised and his saints are honored. It is much more than a vacation or day-trip, and a pilgrim is not a tourist. When we make a pilgrimage, it is for a spiritual purpose. During the October pilgrimage, during such a milestone anniversary, there certainly is much to pray for and be thankful for.

The day will consist of activities such as a concert of sacred music, a multi-lingual rosary and crowning of the Blessed Mother. The traditional procession of parishes will take place and priests will be available to hear confessions. Pilgrims will have time for private prayer and to explore the vast shrine which has magnificent works of art within it and numerous altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary under different titles and as she is honored by different cultures.

The shrine has an extensive bookstore and gift shop which are good places to purchase rosaries, statues, and gifts for events such as first holy Communions or confirmations.

Most importantly, the high point of the day will be a Mass in the Great Upper Church of the Basilica with Bishop Joseph Galante.

There are still seats on busses available throughout the diocese and those interested in making the pilgrimage should contact their local parish as soon as possible for more information. When one thinks of the great Marian shrines throughout the world that are so much farther away, we have a fortunate opportunity in the Diocese of Camden because we are only a few hours away from this historic shrine.

For those who are unable to come on Oct. 13, we hope that you will still join in prayer with the pilgrims and continue to pray for the diocese during this milestone anniversary year. And for those of us who are able to make this important pilgrimage, we will be happy that we made the journey, honored Our Lady, and received graces from God both for ourselves and for our diocese.

Father James L. Bartoloma is the Vice-Chancellor for the Diocese of Camden and director of the Diocesan Marian Commission.

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