The 75th anniversary Marian pilgrimage

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Oct. 13, 2,000 pilgrims from the Camden Diocese boarded 34 busses just before dawn and made the trek here to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for an all-day Marian pilgrimage on the occasion of the diocese’s 75th anniversary.

Dedicated in 1959, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and has been designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a National Sanctuary of Prayer and Pilgrimage.  Visitors to the shrine, which number 1 million annually from across the globe, have included Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Arriving just before 10 a.m., worshippers had the opportunity to cleanse their souls with the sacrament of reconciliation; tour the Basilica, with its impressive Byzantine-Romanesque architecture and works of art, and with its chapels dedicated to Mary under different titles as worshipped by different cultures; and visit the bookstore and gift shop, before the 11 a.m. welcome in the Great Upper Church.

“You come as evidence of a people with great faith to the Blessed Mother,” remarked Father Vito Buonanno, director of pilgrimages for the Basilica in his welcome addressing the diocese.

Two choirs performed sacred music. The youth choir — comprised of high school students from Paul VI High School, Haddon Township; St. Joseph, Hammonton; and Washington Township High School — was led by Agnes Marchione. The combined diocesan adult choir was led by Damaris Thillet.

After lunch in the Great Upper Church was the procession of parishes, with the older and newly-merged faith communities coming together as one. Beginning with Camden’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the See parish of the diocese, and ending with Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Galloway Township, the most-recently created parish, all 70 communities were represented, with worshippers from each community processing down the aisle and to the altar with banners. Father Charles Colozzi, chaplain of Gloucester Catholic High School and Camden Catholic High School, introduced each parish.

Father Michael Romano, director of vocations for the Diocese of Camden, next led the pilgrims in a multi-lingual Rosary, in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog, to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, religious life and the diaconate.  Following this was the litany of the parish patrons of the Diocese of Camden, asking for their intercession.

To thank Mary for her graces to the diocese these past 75 years, and ask for her continued graces now and in the future, as patroness of the Diocese of Camden, the statue of the Blessed Mother, at the side of the altar, was crowned by Sister Melissa Marie Mastrangelo, IHM, a novice of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Bishop Joseph Galante presided and gave the homily at the closing Mass. Msgr. Roger McGrath, vicar general, was the principal celebrant, and some 40 priests concelebrated.

In his homily, Bishop Galante remarked that he was “strengthened” by the pilgrims’ faith and devotion in making the trip to Washington, and called it “one of the great graces I am receiving.”

In reflecting on the reading of the Gospel, which told of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be mother to the son of God, Bishop Galante spoke of the young girl’s willingness to obey God.

Mary “surrendered to God’s will, with the heart of faith,” he said, and we must follow her example. “Everyone of us is always challenged by God’s will,” he said.  “We have to face what God wants and intends with us” with faith.

George Fuchs, 36, from Audubon, came down to D.C. with the contingent from St. Peter’s Parish in Merchantville, whose two busses left just after 6:30 a.m. for the shrine. “It was nice to reconnect with friends from different parishes, enjoy Mass, see the crypts, and strengthen my faith, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother.”

Father James Bartoloma, vice-chancellor for the diocese and director of the Marian Commission, which organized the pilgrimage, called the day one to “reflect on the role of the Blessed Mother in the life of the local church.”

“It was a great celebration of our diocese, gathered together in Mary’s house during the anniversary year, and praying for her protection for years to come,” he said.

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