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Diocesan Pilgrims Fill National Shrine

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“What an incredible turnout!”

“I am humbled by the overwhelming response of our people.”

“This is so much more than anyone could have imagined.”

Those are just three of the numerous comments made at the Diocese of Raleigh's Pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, DC, Saturday, April 12. More than 1500 men, women and children traveled, in most cases, more than 250 miles to be part of this special day in the life of the Church of eastern North Carolina.  The large gathering, which filled the Upper Church of the Basilica, caused even the Shrine staff, which hosts similar events, to marvel at the turnout.

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge said that since he arrived in the Diocese in August, 2006, he has been deeply moved by the faith and enthusiasm of the people. He added that the response of the faithful who journeyed to pay tribute to the patroness of the Church and the Diocese of Raleigh is one more sign that the Church in the Diocese is vibrant and alive.

In both his official greeting and in his homily, the Bishop thanked the pilgrims for the great effort and sacrifice they undertook for this special occasion. Approximately 380 people departed Friday, most on buses from locations throughout the Diocese, spending Friday night in a hotel outside Washington. The remainder bused or drove up on Saturday morning.

In his welcome, Bishop Burbidge pointed out that the Basilica belongs to all the bishops of the United States and therefore all the people. “We are in your Church today. We are in Mary's home.”

He asked the faithful to take time during the day for reflection, adding, “The Lord will speak to you.” He also asked for prayers for three Diocesan intentions:

  • That the Holy Father journey safely on his upcoming trip to the United States, and that the people who hear his message will come to know that Christ is our hope.
  • That we continue our prayer for the respect of life, especially as we gather in the nation's capital.
  • That our Church in Raleigh be blessed with more priests and religious.

Father JaVan Saxon, Pastor of Saint Mary Church in Laurinburg, offered a reflection on “Our Blessed Mother” in English in the Upper Church and Father Fernando Torres, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Clinton, offered a reflection on Our Lady in Spanish in the Lower, Crypt Church. Both reflections were followed by the Rosary. The day also included Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It concluded with Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.

“We have journeyed to this Basilica Shrine as pilgrims,” the Bishop began in his homily, “as one diocesan church with a rich diversity.

“As pilgrims who travel in the company of one another, we renew today our trust in the Lord's abiding presence, for He is the one who leads us today and always, the One who guides us on the right path.”

The Bishop cited Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclical, Spe Salvi, where the pope compares life on earth to “a voyage on a sea, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that guide us on our route.” The Holy Father had noted that, while Christ is the “true light,” to reach our destination, “we need lights close by – people who shine with His light and so lead us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us?”

Bishop Burbidge spoke of Mary's acceptance of what God asked of her and called on each of each us to say “yes” to God's call. “I renew my 'yes' to be a shepherd for you after the heart of Christ,” the Bishop pledged, and then called on priests, deacons, consecrated religious, married couples, seminarians, single people and young people to renew their own “yes.”

“Mary Immaculate, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, pray for us,” the Bishop concluded, “so that each and every day we may say ‘yes' to the Lord and His ways.”

Sue Cheney, a confirmation coordinator at Holy Redeemer by the Sea Church in Kitty Hawk, made the pilgrimage with six students from her parish, five of whom will receive Confirmation this year. She called it an excellent opportunity to provide the young people with a deeper understanding of the diocesan church and their faith. Cheney said the students used the travel time to review the questions and answers that they will need to know prior to receiving the Sacrament.

Nicetas Juanillo, a native of the Philippines, and parishioner of Saint Mildred in Swansboro, said the pilgrimage was a moving experience and added that she was brought to tears by the music of the Diocesan Choir during the Benediction.

Lewin Warren of Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Cary said he and his wife recently made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He is looking to deepen his relationship with God and said the pilgrimage offered him that opportunity.

Cheney, Juanillo and Warren's interviews can be viewed below along with reflections from other pilgrims.