A gathering of more than 3,000 faithful from the Diocese of Harrisburg traveled to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Nov. 3. The pilgrimage was a time of prayerful reflection over recent events in the Church and the Diocese, as well as a commemoration of the Diocese’s 150th anniversary.
Pilgrims, who traveled to Washington from all parts of the Diocese, began the day with Mass, followed by an opportunity to learn more about the Diocese and the state of the Church through the Conversations in Faith talks. Tours of the Basilica and its more than 80 chapels honoring Mary were offered, highlighting her role in the history of many ethnic communities and conveying a remarkable story of the faith, devotion and struggle for many of our nation’s immigrants.
Salvation History is a Pilgrimage
We are all pilgrims and our entire salvation history can be seen as pilgrimages. This was the message Father Neil S. Sullivan, pastor of St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Harrisburg, presented to those gathered at the Basilica for the opening Mass.
Bishop Ronald Gainer was unable to attend due to continued recovery from double knee surgery.
“From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is filled with people on the move,” Father Sullivan said. From Noah and the Ark; God calling Abraham to a new land; Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt; the Three Wise men visiting the Holy Family; and Jesus’ tour of preaching, his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem and then his way to the cross; we can see pilgrimages throughout our history.
“Salvation History is filled with the People of God on the move, of missionaries going across the globe or neighbors going across the street to share comfort and joy,” Father Sullivan said. “And always, always, Jesus accompanies us on the journey.”
Father Sullivan added that on this day of pilgrimage, not only were those gathered remembering the 150 years of the Harrisburg Diocese showing Christ’s faith, hope and love, but each member gathered was also offering God all of the journeys which led them to this moment.
“But it’s not merely the ministry and work of the clergy and religious that made this journey of 150 years,” Father Sullivan said. “This journey was made and continues to be made by the People of God, the living stones who build the Church, carrying the flame of faith burning brightly in their hearts, even at times when winds and rain try to extinguish it.”
This pilgrimage of faith we are all on is leading us to the new Heaven and the new earth recounted in the book of Revelation. But this journey is not one we take alone.
“Like the small pieces that form these magnificent mosaics, we journey together. Each of us, different shapes and sizes, different textures and hues, held together by the mortar of God’s grace to be the Body of Christ,” Father Sullivan said.
In addition to traveling together, members of the Church are also under the caring and loving arms of Mary, the Mother of the Church.
“She has one arm before us with the model of her discipleship and one arm behind us with her prayerful intercession,” said Father Sullivan. “And she is there at the finish line, calling to us, her eyes fixed on us, encouraging us as we make this journey to where she already is, to be with her Son forever.”
Many of those attending the pilgrimage explored the Basilica and attended their choice of four Conversations in Faith sessions after the opening Mass. The rich history of the Basilica, considered America’s Catholic Church, could be seen throughout the detailed mosaics in the chapels, artwork and statues.
“I’ve never been here before, so I’m in awe,” said Candy Bott, a parishioner from the Harrisburg Diocese.
“We love this. The Church is gorgeous,” said Anthony Devlin, who traveled with his family from St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg.
The pilgrimage not only brought spiritual renewal, but also a sense of peace for the many gathered.
“It has been so uplifting and spiritual,” said LaDora Field from St. Joan of Arc Parish in Hershey.
“I was looking for some peace and I’ve found it,” said Marge Michalski.
Peace and comfort during these times of uncertainty were a message heard throughout the day. During the closing prayer service, Father Joshua R. Brommer, pastor of the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, spoke to the pilgrims about the merciful love and protection provided by the Blessed Mother.
“Even in our own time, when we struggle through egregious acts of infidelity perpetrated by members of the Church; even when we find ourselves unsettled and uncertain with leaders who have betrayed our trust; we continue to sing a song to the Almighty who does great things for us and through us,” Father Brommer said.
He added that those faithful members of the Church have been entrusted with the work of the Church, which cannot be undermined by the few unfaithful.
Father Brommer then recounted the words of Bishop Ronald Gainer from the opening Mass celebrating the Diocese’s anniversary, specifically that there is “work to be done, and it is the transcendent work of Jesus Christ,” and that it “is the work of Christ and only we…can do it.”
“In light of all that has happened in these last few months, these words given new life by Bishop Gainer ring ever truer for you and for me,” Father Brommer said. “The great work of mercy entrusted to us now is the renewal and purification of the Church in Harrisburg. It is mercy because we are being reminded of who we truly are and what truly matters. It is mercy because the grace of humility and even humiliation allows us to become the lowly ones lifted up by the Lord and the hungry filled with good things. And why? So that the Lord may show his strength through our weakness, and his mercy in our brokenness.”
Father Brommer issued the pilgrims a call to action.
“As a great crowd of witnesses, renewed and enlivened by this holy pilgrimage, we are called to return to our parishes, our schools, our workplaces, and our homes in the Diocese of Harrisburg recommitted to those good works entrusted to the Church,” he said. “Faithful members of our Diocese have proclaimed the Gospel for 150 years. We must continue what they have begun.”
The 150th anniversary celebration for the Diocese of Harrisburg will continue through March 3, 2019. To view more photos and video from the pilgrimage, visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DioceseofHarrisburg.
By Rachel Bryson, M.S., Special to The Witness