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Diocesan pilgrimage draws 2,000 to Washington basilica

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At the largest event at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 people gathered for the Arlington Diocesan Pilgrimage in the Year of St. Joseph Oct. 30.

Msgr. Vito A. Buonanno, director of pilgrimages, greeted the pilgrims as they arrived. “Welcome Arlington to Mary’s house. This is spectacular for us to see this. You are the largest pilgrimage since we closed in March of 2020,” he said. “We are so grateful to Bishop (Michael F.) Burbidge, to the Arlington diocese that started coming here in 1975. You have been faithful to this wonderful devotion of pilgrimage. Let others know the faith in America, the faith in Arlington is alive.” The last diocesan pilgrimage to the shrine was held in 2017; a diocesan pilgrimage is usually held every few years. 

This year's pilgrimage culminated with Bishop Burbidge celebrating Mass with Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde and many of the priests of the diocese, assisted by several seminarians.

In his homily, Bishop Burbidge spoke about the value of worshipping together. “An important lesson we have learned throughout the challenges and struggles of the global coronavirus pandemic is that we need to be with one another, especially in offering thanksgiving in this holy sacrifice of the Mass, joining in the praise of the angels and saints,” he said. “During this year of St. Joseph, we make our pilgrimage and we turn to him as the guardian of the body of Christ. St. Joseph emanates love for God.”

Laura DeMaria, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington, said she joined the pilgrimage for that reason — “to remember how important the community and togetherness of church is and to live that and practice it. I think I will take away spiritual gratitude for how wonderful it is to be a Catholic and that we have these resources, the beauty and the truth and the goodness of the faith, and the ability to gather in this way.”

During the pilgrimage, attendees recited the rosary together in five languages — Vietnamese, Korean, French, Spanish and English, spent time in adoration, went to confession and explored the shrine. Fathers John J. Riley and Stephen M. Vacarro, parochial vicars of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester, as well as Father Joseph M. Rampino, parochial vicar of Queen of the Apostles Church in Alexandria, gave spiritual reflections on St. Joseph.

Children joined a “seek and find'' activity that helped them learn more about the art around the shrine. Eyoel Berhane, 13, and his sister Eliham, 11, students at Queen of Apostles School in Alexandria, said they most enjoyed soaking in the beauty of the shrine. “I haven’t been here in a while so I missed being around here and I like the church, the way it looks, and I wanted to learn more,” said Eyoel. Eliham most appreciated the Our Lady of La Vang chapel, where members of the Vietnamese community had a prayer service during a break in the day’s schedule.

At the close of the pilgrimage, Bishop Burbidge walked throughout the church as people held out rosaries, religious jewelry, statues and other items for him to bless with holy water.

Pilgrim Michael Norton, a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, and his girlfriend Robin Glasser, who is Lutheran, said they loved hearing the beautiful singing of the diocesan festival choir and experiencing the holy hour. “The whole thing brings you closer to God, just seeing so many people, the reverence, the love for God,” said Norton. “It’s good to see so many people come together in the presence of the Lord.”

Glasser added, “It doesn't matter what faith you are, it's good to see.”

This story has been updated. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

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