Every week, it seems, after late hours in the office, family responsibilities, and the tasks of everyday life, I get the itch for some “me time,” to be able to get away from the busyness of it all.
I make time to relax, recharge and refresh myself, be it through a good nature hike out near the Delaware Water Gap or Appalachian Mountains; sitting by the shores of Long Beach Island, an Elmore Leonard or J.R.R. Tolkien book in hand; or even a quick trip to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at my parish. After these experiences, I always find myself ready to continue God’s work.
Even Jesus noticed the need for some time of peace and reflection, when he told his followers to go “by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mk 6:31-32).
In less than a month, I’m happy to be able to have this opportunity again, this time in Washington, D.C., joining Bishop Dennis Sullivan and other pilgrims from all over South Jersey who are making the trip down 95 to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, for the diocese’s bi-annual Marian Pilgrimage.
The United States’ pre-eminent Marian Shrine, the Basilica is dedicated to Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the country and of the Diocese of Camden.
Since its first Mass on Easter Sunday in 1924, the shrine has had individuals such as Saint John Paul II, Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Francis leaving their footsteps, in awe of the Byzantine architecture and the many chapels in the Upper Church or Lower Crypt that reflect the myriad cultures and traditions of the people of the United States, such as altars to Our Mother of Africa, the Infant Jesus of Prague or Our Lady of the Korean Martyrs.
Highlights of the upcoming pilgrimage, as in years past, will be Mass in the Great Upper Church with Bishop Sullivan; a crowning of the Blessed Virgin; a beautiful concert of sacred music; the recitation of the rosary; and the procession of parishes from our diocese. As well, there will be opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation.
During this year’s trip, I’m especially excited to see up-close the recently-completed Trinity Dome in the Upper Church. Depicting the Most Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mosaic also includes saints who have history with the shrine and the United States, such as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (the first canonized female Native American), Saint John Paul II (the first pope to visit the National Shrine), and Saint Junipero Serra (the first saint ever to be canonized in America).
Father James Bartoloma, the chancellor of the Camden Diocese and director of the Marian Commission, believes the attendance at this year’s pilgrimage will be even greater than the previous one in 2016. “More buses have been contracted than last time and there are also a number of people who travel on their own or in small groups to the pilgrimage. It is a joyful day trip, especially for families who come to honor the Mother of God and entrust their intentions to her intercession,” Father Bartoloma said.
“This year, as the names of the parishes are announced and we see their representatives walk down the center aisle with the parish banners that they bring, they will be walking beneath the recently completed Trinity Dome Mosaic. The dome mosaic is a breathtaking work of sacred art that was still under construction during our last pilgrimage. This year, as the pilgrims look up at the heavenly images and then around them at their fellow pilgrims, it will be a powerful reminder that our local church is also a family. A family that praises God together, lifts up our united intentions in prayer, and expresses our great love for our Mother, Mary,” he said.
As the school season kicks into high gear, and our thoughts soon turn in the coming months to autumn leaves, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Advent and Christmas seasons, let us take time out on Oct. 13 to bring our desires, concerns and prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “If you ever feel distressed during your day, call upon Our Lady.”
Hope to see you all on Oct. 13.
For more information on the Marian Pilgrimage, contact your parish office to register, or call 856-939-1769.
Peter G. Sánchez is the Catholic Star Herald staff writer and social media coordinator.