By AnnMarie Gabriel
In a recent retreat for priests at the papal–Basilica of St. Mary Major, Pope Francis reflected on the “vessel of mercy.” In this Year of Mercy he said that it is the sinless Virgin Mary who is the “simple yet perfect vessel that receives and bestows mercy.”
So it was on a recent Saturday morning in late June that the Mothers’ Prayer Group from Holy Family Church in Canarsie – together with members of the parish and neighboring parishes – gathered for a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Litchfield, Conn. The stone grotto is modeled after the site in France where a young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, had an experience of the Mother of God appearing to her with a message of hope and encouragement in 1858.
Seeking God’s Mercy
Accompanied by Holy Family’s parochial vicar, Father Robert Pierre-Louis, we boarded the bus. We became not a Mothers Prayer Group, but pilgrims seeking the mercy of our God.
In preparation for this pilgrimage, Mothers Prayers Group made a nine-week novena to Our Lady of Lourdes, and for the majority of time on the bus, members prayed. As the bus arrived at the shrine, pilgrims processed into the grotto singing a Marian hymn.
As I processed, I became aware that not only my life, but also the lives of all these pilgrims revolved around God. The atmosphere felt sacred and tranquil as I observed the pilgrims’ faces, reflecting joy with those beautiful smiles.
Beginning the day with the Stations of the Cross was a time of concentration for me. The sun was shining brightly, but the trees formed a canopy over pilgrims and a soft breeze rustled the leaves. I opened up to God, knowing as I reenacted His way to Calvary, that God will make a way for me and for my family.
God Makes a Way
He will also make a way for all the pilgrims joining me that day, even when to us it might appear that, for the burdens held in our hearts, there might be little hope. God will make a way for us because of His tremendous love. He gave His Son, Jesus, to be our Savior, our guide, our strength. The way of the Stations of the Cross was hilly and a little difficult to climb, but I envisioned how much more difficult it would be to walk up a hill with a huge cross resting on my shoulders.
As I reached the 12th Station, symbolized by a 50-foot cross, I knelt, praised God and gave Him thanks.
Ending the Stations of the Cross brought the group into the grotto where Mass was held. Father Pierre-Louis concelebrated the Mass with Father William Considine, S.M.M., of the shrine.
Sense of Peace
During the Mass, looking at the statue of Our Lady in between the rocks, I reflected on how, as the Mother of our Savior, the Blessed Mother plays such an important part in our lives. Standing together with all the pilgrims who had journeyed the two-and-a-half hours from Brooklyn, I felt a connection with them and with our Blessed Mother that went deeper than words: I experienced a sense of peace. I remembered Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
After Mass, pilgrims shared lunch and Father Pierre-Louis offered a reflection. The afternoon concluded with adoration and benediction at the grotto with time left for personal meditation and reflection. Pilgrims found the shrine to be a place of tranquility, while some spoke of experiencing God’s embrace.
Boarding the bus back to Brooklyn, there was hope in my heart. I saw that same hope and light shining in the faces of the other pilgrims.