Pilgrims focus on family

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For millennia, Christians have visited and venerated holy places that brought them closer to the lives of Jesus, Mary and the saints.

"Pilgrimages, a sign of the condition of the disciples of Christ in this world, have always held an important place in the life of Christians," said St. John Paul II.

Every two years, the Arlington Diocese invites parishioners to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. This year, the pilgrimage took place Oct. 3, sandwiched between a nor'easter and Hurricane Joaquin.

The storms may have kept some pilgrims home, but those who braved the weather found a holy and transformative experience.

Corinne Monogue, director of the diocesan Office of Multicultural Affairs, estimated that between 1,700 and 2,000 people attended the pilgrimage.

The theme of this year's pilgrimage was "Oh Mary, Keep our Family in Love." Family was at the center of all prayers and meditations.

The day began with eucharistic adoration and benediction. Father James Searby, parochial vicar of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, gave the meditation.

Emphasizing the themes of love and family, Father Searby asked the pilgrims to remember how it was when they fell in love for the first time. He said the feeling was one of adventure.

"The deepest longing is that we want to be loved," he said.

Father Searby said that when we were children, there was always one house that the other children gravitated to.

"You were one of the family there," he said.

He said that family gives us hope, even when things appear hopeless, but, "that nothing is hopeless is the message of Christianity."

The recitation of the rosary followed the meditation. A different diocesan family led the congregation in each of the five joyful mysteries.

The fourth joyful mystery, the Presentation in the Temple, was led by the Gyamfi family, parishioners of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria.

Albert Gyamfi said that the bad weather had no affect on the family's decision to go on the pilgrimage.

"We wanted to come to the house of God," he said.

The Gonzalez family recited the second joyful mystery, the Visitation.

"It was an honor for me to pray the rosary," said Stephanie Gonzalez.

There were Unbound Ministry prayer groups that met in chapels in the Upper Church as others received the sacrament of reconciliation in the Crypt Church.

In the Upper Church chapels, families gathered in prayer circles or held hands in forgiving ceremonies.

The day concluded with Mass, concelebrated by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and the priests of the diocese.

In his homily, the bishop welcomed the pilgrims to Mary's house.

He said the family is the living symbol of God's plan, adding that God dreams, and the family is that dream.

"The family is being attacked in many ways," said Bishop Loverde. "The very nature of marriage is being altered and redefined."

Families are not perfect, said the bishop, and there are challenges, but God's direction and plan for families has not changed.

The key ingredient for the family is love, he said. "Jesus gave His life for us out of love."

To strengthen the family, the bishop asked that everyone pray the rosary, receive the sacraments and go to Mass.

The diocese is like a family, said the bishop. Every day we need to pray to keep God's dream alive.

"The family that prays together, stays together," he said.

It was the first diocesan pilgrimage for Emilio and Marlene DiCola, parishioners of St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield.

"We've been wanting to do this for a while," said Emilio. "I thought it was something that would bring me closer to God."

Paul Marsala, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, said his family made the pilgrimage for the love of Mary.

"We've come to honor her," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015