A diocesan tradition dating back to 1922 commenced Oct. 27 when more than 2,400 locals from more than 50 parishes embarked on a daylong pilgrimage to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
On the final weekend during the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary, pilgrims braved the forecast that called for tumultuous rain and boarded more than 30 buses headed for the nation’s capitol. The journey would eventually lead them into a shrine that is bigger than the proportions of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan by more than a quarter in size.
It would become a day that included a multilingual rosary, opportunities for confession, free time to explore, as well as a small concert before Mass celebrated by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
“Pilgrimages are meant to be somewhat difficult,” said the bishop, who served as the day’s spiritual guide.
“We have to go out of our normal circumstances of life to find God and to find Our Lady at this particular shrine dedicated to her. So we make a sacrifice to come away from our normal life, pick a day out and pray and make ourselves recognize God’s presence and come closer to God.”
Brooklyn’s Auxiliary Bishops Raymond Chappetto James Massa, Witold Mroziewski, Paul Sanchez and Neil Tiedemann, C.P. accompanied the bishop and also helped to greet the flocks of pilgrims inside the church.
Whether the bishops were shaking hands or taking selfies with what seemed like an unending line of visitors passing through the basilica’s doors, reverence and joy were also present. The pilgrimage resembled a family reunion occurring against the backdrop of the largest Catholic Church in the Americas that honors Mary under her many titles.
If one listened a little closer, the sounds of the Diocese of Immigrants echoed throughout the stone floors. Whispers and devotional prayers were heard in between the Romanesque-Byzantine architecture and came in the form of English, Italian, Igbo, Polish, Spanish to Kreyol, Korean, Cantonese and even Arabic, Czech, Slovak and Tagalog. No matter the language, under the same ceiling, it was one family of faith coming together in unison to showcase their devotion to Mary and her son.
“Brooklyn is a unique place,” added Bishop DiMarzio. “A lot of immigrants have always been there and I think Our Lady is a special mother to immigrants. People who recognize that as they leave their home country, they keep their devotion to Mary who is their mother and any particular title that they’ve been used to, so I think they continue that as they come here.”
Father Gerard Sauer, diocesan pilgrimage director and Father John O’Connor, diocesan liturgy office director, both coordinated the schedule and travel arrangements for the day.
“While there are many shrines and some beautiful shrines even in our own diocese, this is the national shrine for the entire United States,” said Father Sauer. “Mary stands in the center. And of course, the shrine is named after the patroness of the United States.”
The day began with a vibrant welcome from a familiar diocesan face.
“Welcome Brooklyn!” exclaimed Msgr. Vito A. Buonanno, a Brooklyn priest whose assignment has been the national shrine’s pilgrimage director.
After his warm welcome to the crowds, he opened the floor for the pilgrims to follow in the footsteps of the saints and popes who also visited the shrine. Like St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, Popes Francis and Benedict who came before them, together as one church, the pilgrims prayed the rosary, or as Msgr. Buonanno referred to it as “an opportunity that is afforded to everybody to encounter the divine.”
For Our Lady of Angels, Bay Ridge, parishioner Elsie Salim, originally from Indonesia, she felt right at home.
My Mother’s House
“Every time I visit the basilica, I feel like I’m going to my mother’s house,” she said. “Heaven on earth, it gives me peace in my heart. Especially this time, I was with Sister Christiana, she is an angel who brings joy. I come home with a peaceful heart.”
Sitting in a pew by himself, high school junior Edward Pena was one of the pilgrims on the younger side of the spectrum. Yet for Pena, who was inspired by the Blessed Mother, said it was the least he could do for Mary.
“I love the fact about her life that she said yes to God’s plan,” said Pena, who attends St. Mary of the Sea in Far Rockaway. “She said yes to everything God had asked her to do.”
The latest addition to the basilica was the new Trinity Dome installed in December 2017. The mosaic was composed of more than 14 million pieces of Venetian glass and depicted a small communion of saints standing next to the Virgin Mary against a golden backdrop.
Besides that, most of the physical church’s architecture remained unchanged from two years ago, when the Brooklyn and Queens Catholics last participated in the diocesan pilgrimage. Except this time, the Church was different.
The archdiocese of Washington flock was no longer under its shepherd Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl. Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the former archbishop of Washington in an announcement Oct. 12 after the cardinal faced pressure to resign after revelations from the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Cardinal Wuerl currently serves as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until a successor is named.
Despite the scandals occurring within the Church, St. Mary Magdalene parishioner Yvonne Wilson said she still has a positive outlook on life.
“Whatever is happening around, we have to stay steadfast to our faith and just believe that God will cover us.”
The Brooklyn diocese’s pilgrimage director said to look to Mary.
“In any time of trouble in my life, in your life, in the lives of the pilgrims, when you need something, who do you go to? You go to your mother,” said Father Sauer.
“We come here with joys, with sorrows, with sufferings, we come with the pain of what the Church is going through, we come here with the joys of what the Church is going through. We come to our mother.”