As the Year of Mercy draws to a close in the coming weeks, Brooklyn and Queens Catholics shared a day of prayer and pilgrimage focused on the Mother of Mercy.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio served as a spiritual guide, leading around 2,000 locals on the diocese’s biennial pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29.
Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the shrine, thanked Bishop DiMarzio and the diocese for continuing the “time-honored spiritual practice” begun by Brooklyn Knights of Columbus, who conducted the “very first pilgrimage” to the national basilica in 1927.
On their way to pay tribute to the Blessed Mother, attendees had the opportunity to cross the threshold of the national Holy Door of mercy.
But first, they received the welcome of a proud father as the bishop stood on the steps of the basilica, greeting 40 busloads of travelers and posing for formal photos as well as selfies.
Auxiliary Bishops Raymond Chappetto, Witold Mroziewski and James Massa, also received pilgrims, who well represented the diocese’s diverse cultures and languages. Representatives of ethnic apostolates took part in the opening ceremonies and 20 languages were included in prayers throughout the day.
“We are people of different ethnic backgrounds, but the same faith,” Bishop Mroziewski said. “We are all coming to Our Lady with great faith, deep devotion and great enthusiasm.”
The faithful were there to give honor to Mary and pray not only for their own needs and the needs of the Church, but also for the country and diocese, both of which revere the Blessed Virgin, under the title of the Immaculate Conception as their patroness.
“Today we gather in this great shrine of Mary, and with great confidence we call upon her, knowing that the needs we present before her will surely reach the throne of God,” Bishop DiMarzio told his flock.
The diocesan contingent received an enthusiastic welcome from Msgr. Vito A. Buonanno, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese, who serves as the shrine’s pilgrimage director.
“This Jubilee Year of Mercy is a special time for the church, both locally and universally, to recognize the great gift God has given us in our faith,” he told fellow New Yorkers.
“The practice of pilgrimage, our Holy Father said, has a special place in the Holy Year because pilgrimage represents the journey each of us are on, that each of us make in this life.”
He encouraged those present to use their time at the shrine to seek the merciful face of Jesus, which “shines through His Mother” in the “great opportunities of grace” available to them.
‘Opportunities of Grace’
Those opportunities included a multi-lingual recitation of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary; time for the sacrament of reconciliation, guided tours and personal prayer; a concert of sacred music, presented by the Brooklyn Diocesan Choir, and Mass at the altar Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at the national shrine in September, 2015.
Father Gerard Sauer, diocesan pilgrimage director, and Father John O’Connor, diocesan liturgy office director, coordinated the schedule and travel arrangements for the day.
And while the formal program began in Washington, the pilgrimage started as parishioners boarded buses in their neighborhoods in the pre-dawn hours. Priests and deacons invoked the Blessed Mother’s protection upon drivers and travellers on their journeys. On the five-hour drive, pilgrims prayed the rosary, sang Marian hymns and viewed religious films, such as “The Song of Bernadette.”
Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel was among the more popular sites for local pilgrims to visit as well as the chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa, where Colombian-born Sister Heidi Delgadillo, P.C.M., admired an image of the Black Madonna.
Since going to World Youth Day in Poland in the summer, she said, “I always try to look for the Virgin of Czestochowa.”
Sister Heidi, who ministers at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights, appreciated the “sense of community in humanity” the shrine creates by having Marian images from all different lands together.
She was grateful to the Brooklyn Diocese for “bringing all of our communities together in the presence of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
A convert to Catholicism, Maria Choy of St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang parish, Flushing, used the day to grow in her devotion to Mary and learn about the many names by which Our Lady is known around the world.
Choy had the “honor, holy and grace-filled” to lead the rosary for fellow pilgrims in her native Korean tongue. Her own prayer, she said, is “for peace, blessings for my country and for everyone.”
As the pilgrimage came to a close, Bishop DiMarzio urged pilgrims to model Mary in their lives and take her with them on their journey home – and more importantly, on their earthly journeys.
“Remember in your lives to always seek Mary, the Queen of Mercy,” he said. “Through God, the Father and the Son, she obtains mercy for us. Never be afraid to ask for you will receive.”