Archbishop Chaput led a pilgrimage yesterday to the Basilica Of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. A group from our Parish was blessed to be able to join a group of pilgrims, who traveled from Philadelphia to Washington. For the benefit of those of you who couldn't attend, I'd like to share our experience.
The pilgrims departed a little after eight in the morning in very high spirits. There were casual hellos from old friends and some introductions happening between new ones. The bus was soon leaving Levittown and heading south on Interstate 95. John Murray then took the bus microphone, "We are embarking on our pilgrimage. Since this is a pilgrimage, everything you do from this point on is a prayer and is part of the pilgrimage." John led the group in a prayer for a safe trip. Everyone then joined together to pray the Rosary. Since it was Saturday, the focus was on the Joyful Mysteries. The rest of the ride was spent in mostly quiet contemplation and prayer. Some soft, polite conversation could be heard lilting through the cabin, broken up by trivia questions and prizes that highlighted the new Lighthouse Kiosk recently installed in the Parish Center.
The bus arrived in time for the program prepared by the staff of the Archdiocese. The day began at noon with a welcome from the Rector of the Basilica, and immediately led into a liturgical prayer service. The focus was on preparing for receiving the Lord's mercy, as was the theme of the entire pilgrimage in this Jubilee Year. Following the gathered prayer, the faithful were invited to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Tour the Basilica, and/or spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. About 20 priests and bishops took up spots in the Crypt Church downstairs to listen to confessions and offer absolution. The solemn setting lent itself to the devout and resolved attitudes of those preparing to reconcile themselves with God's will. The Eucharist was exposed in a golden monstrance adorned with precious stones on the outside. A subtle backing, that would remind someone of autumn leaves in a vineyard, gave a modern feel to the monstrance that matched the elegant clean lines adorning the rest of the chapel. Many of the faithful took advantage of the time to visit some of the 70+ devotional areas of the Basilica.
After an hour of personal time, the attendees gathered together again to witness a procession with a statue of the Blessed Mother, followed by a crowning.
They then joined together to be lead in the Rosary by Bishop Senior. After a very short interlude, the peak of the experience began, Mass celebrated by Archbishop Chaput. The Mass and the Music were beautiful, highlighted by an extraordinarily talented Soprano Cantor. The Archbishop's homily concentrated on the connection to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the National Shrine, and also his own personal connection as a member of it's board of directors. He also spoke of the importance of recognizing Mary, under her title of Mother of Mercy, during this Jubilee Year of Divine Mercy. Her role is vital in encouraging sinners to turn back to Jesus, and discover the mercy and forgiveness awaiting them from the Father.
The Queen of the Universe pilgrims left the mass energized, commenting how it went so quickly and that they wish they had more time to spend in the presence of Our Lord and Lady. Many were deeply touched by the experience and the words of the Archbishop. They all enjoyed the blessing of a Plenary Indulgence that was obtained my walking through the Basilica's Holy Doors, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, receiving the Eucharist and praying for the intentions of His Holiness, Pope Francis. The trip home was similar in feel, except this time interspersed with a stop for dinner, followed by the movie God Is Not Dead. A tired, but joyful, band of pilgrims arrived back in Queen's parking lot just before 9 pm to bring their new found grace back to their homes to share with their family and fellow parishoners.