Living the joy of pilgrimage

Pilgrimage has been a reality uniting us as a diocesan family in these recent weeks. Why do I say that?

First, there was the diocesan pilgrimage, sponsored by the Office of Development, to the Holy Land, Sicily and Rome. Our parishioners were invited to take part in both or either one of the two segments of this pilgrimage. So, some among us made the entire pilgrimage, that is, to the Holy Land (Sept. 3-10) and to Sicily and Rome (Sept. 10-18). Others did one or other of these segments. Everyone, however, found this pilgrimage to be a time of many blessings, nurturing insights and deepening unity as disciples of the Lord and members of the Church of Arlington (or, as in the case of a few from outside the diocese, friends of this diocesan church).

Those who journeyed to the Holy Land were inspired by Father Thomas Ferguson, pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Alexandria and Episcopal Vicar for Faith Formation, and by an excellent, well-informed guide. Together, they enabled the pilgrims to reflect deeply on the spiritual richness of the holy places they were visiting in Galilee and in Jerusalem. Our pilgrims continue to savor their reflections and experiences, expressing quite openly that they now hear and read the Scriptures in an entirely new way, which has been my own experience since making an earlier pilgrimage two years ago.

Those who joined me for the second segment of this pilgrimage to Sicily and to Rome likewise experienced many blessings and an enriching time together. We visited in Sicily those mountaintop villages associated with my ancestry. Although my mother was born and raised in the States, her father and mother emigrated from Sicily. So, my maternal grandfather came from Tusa. We journeyed to that mountaintop village, interacting with a number of people and praying at their principal church, dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, Assumed Into Heaven. A majority of Sicilians living in my hometown of Pawcatuck, Conn., have their roots in Tusa, so each year in August, our parish in Pawcatuck celebrates the Assumption of Mary with days of prayer preceding the Solemnity of the Assumption, a solemn Mass on the Sunday closest to that holy day, and a procession through the streets with the statue of Mary Assumed Into Heaven.

My maternal grandmother came from San Mauro Castel Verde, so we also traveled there, again interacting with some of the townsfolk and visiting their principal church where the statue of Saint Maurus, a Benedictine abbot, is revered as their patron.

My father came from Pollina. There, we were greeted by the Mayor and the Council with a festive reception and words of gracious welcome. I offered the Holy Mass in their principal church where nearly 50 years ago, I celebrated the Christmas Midnight Mass as a newly ordained priest with my relatives looking on. Some of them present then were likewise taking part in the Mass I offered on September 12. What a joy it was to visit my relatives on the next day (Sunday). It was likewise a privilege and joy to share the beauty of these three mountaintop villages with our pilgrims, enabling them to experience the simple but profound faith of the people still living in these areas wherein the faith which I received through my parents is still alive and visible.

Our pilgrims also saw the exquisite mosaics in the Cathedrals in Cefalu and in Monreale (next to Palermo). As we traveled along the northern coast of Sicily and, later in Rome, we marveled at the beauty of God's creation; we gave thanks for the artistic genius with which He endowed artists to create mosaics, paintings and sculptures which proclaim the history of salvation and the lives of holy men and women, inviting us to become holy as well, saints in fact, who are, truthfully, redeemed sinners.

In Rome, our pilgrims were privileged to be seated close to the Holy Father as he concluded his catechetical series on "Marriage and the Family" at the General Audience of Sept. 16. I, too, was privileged to greet Pope Francis at the conclusion of the audience, assuring him of our prayers and loyalty and eagerly looking forward to his visit to our nation (Sept. 22-27).

Our pilgrims also visited the four major basilicas, the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, and the Scavi below Saint Peter's Basilica. Some of them took a side-trip to Assisi on Sept. 17. Prior to their leaving for Assisi, all of us participated in the Holy Mass offered at the Christo Re Altar in the crypt, facing the tomb of Saint Peter. Afterwards, I was able to pray quietly at the Altar of the Chair, where I was ordained a priest on Dec. 18, 1965.

Secondly, as a diocesan family, united with all our brothers and sisters in this nation, we experienced the pilgrimage or pastoral visit of Pope Francis from Sept. 22 to Sept. 27. This first visit to our country ever by this Holy Father has been the source of manifold blessings and uplifting and nurturing messages of hope, solidarity and charity from the Vicar of Christ who lives out in his own life and manner of interaction what he urges us all to do: to reach out to everyone with the joy of the Gospel, working together as we seek to make life here more compassionate and honorable and to attain eternal life. It will take much more reflection and prayer for us to absorb all that Pope Francis shared in his homilies, reflections, and addresses. He so often ended his presentations with a simple request: "Pray for me." Surely, we pledge, each one of us, to pray for him as he continues to proclaim the truth of Christ's teaching in its entirety while doing so in a way that is relational, positive, welcoming and inviting.

Finally, pilgrimage is the experience each one of us is living, because from Baptism on, ours is a pilgrimage of faith, hope and charity, as we seek to become more like Christ and to love others as He loves us.

Yes, pilgrimage as an actual journey has ended, but the reality of pilgrimage continues since we are, each of us, journeying towards our promised inheritance: life eternal with our God!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015