Print Issue: January 23, 2003
In Washington, Maryland, Pilgrims Visit Historic Shrines
By Priscilla Greear, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON-After climbing a narrow flight of wooden steps to the roof of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pilgrims on the 2002 Washington pilgrimage experienced a trip highlight.
They entered the church's copper dome and peered out its skylights into the blue sky over Baltimore and down some 100 feet onto the seat of U.S. Catholicism.
Pilgrim Stacy Mastrolia, 35, was impressed by how many older women on the trip climbed to the top of the nation's first cathedral, and how their faith shone.
"Climbing up to the top, seeing all these other people get up (there), that was pretty phenomenal," said the pilgrim from Augusta. "I hope one day I'm as holy as they are. It's remarkable to see women at a later stage in their life who have accomplished more and are more dedicated to the church. They've grown in their faith."
Another high note was the group's stop at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center where people tried interactive activities like pulling on ropes to sound bell chimes and designing stained glass windows on computers. They saw bronze handprints collected from Catholics around the world and their corresponding thoughts on their faith.
The center opened in March 2001 and allows visitors to explore their faith and the role of the church in history and society. The exhibit of oils and watercolors by Father Jerome Tupa, OSB, is on display through May 7.
The annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., led by Archbishop John F. Donoghue, was held in September and drew pilgrims from around the archdiocese, including Father Larry Niese, Father Tom Hennessy and Father Dan Rogaczewski. With some newcomers and others making their second or third trip, it was a time to learn more about the history of the U.S. Catholic Church, reflect and grow closer to God.
The archbishop spoke of God's saving plan for each person.
"Our pilgrimage is but one stop on the road of our lives, but if it has given us this, and nothing else-a moment in which to contemplate the infinity of God's love, as it speaks to us through Jesus Christ, through, as He says in the Gospel, His sufferings, His rejection, His death and His rising, then this pilgrimage has opened for us a spigot of grace. And our souls have become stronger."
The John Paul Center, located near the Catholic University of America, is a modern building with a winged-shape roof, a 75-foot gilded cross and floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition to rotating exhibits, the center houses art from the Vatican Museums and galleries focusing on church and papal history, faith, science, imagination, community, Mary and children. Visitors can enter a database on saints and get answers to Catholic questions. They can listen to papal speeches, learn the creation stories of the Iroquois Indians and other cultures, consider the Human Genome Project from an ethical perspective and learn common principles of the world's largest religions. Only one room directly honors the pope, the Pope John Paul II Heritage Room, which has personal items from his Congressional Gold Medal to his Alpine snow skis, his photos and his poetry.
The pilgrims also visited the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, which holds beautiful artwork and architecture on secluded, restful grounds. The Franciscan order was entrusted 700 years ago with the guardianship of the Holy Land and other shrines of Christianity. This work has grown to include supporting schools and missions in the Holy Land, and the monastery is dedicated to this trust.
Then heading to Maryland, the pilgrims visited the historic basilica of the Assumption. Robert Lancelotta Jr., executive vice president of its historic trust, spoke of the country's first bishop, John Carroll, and his central role in establishing the American Catholic Church.
The Diocese of Baltimore, founded in 1789, originally extended from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi embracing about 25,000 Catholics. Bishop Carroll commissioned the church, which was dedicated in 1821. Maryland was a haven for Catholics to freely practice their religion.
"It's where Catholic Church history in the U.S. happened," said Lancelotta. "Families like the very wealthy Carrolls kept Catholicism alive in the English colonies."
The basilica, which is being restored, was designed in a neoclassical style by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect of the U.S. Capitol under Thomas Jefferson. In colonial days Catholics were denied voting rights and couldn't practice law; the basilica served as a symbol of their newfound freedom of religion and a growing Catholic presence.
Lancelotta said Bishop Carroll came from a wealthy Irish immigrant family determined to stay faithfully Catholic despite persecution. While Catholics think they have a priest shortage now, the bishop had the "huge undertaking" of shepherding Catholics in his diocese with only 30 priests, some elderly and some rogue priests cast out of Europe.
In Emmitsburg, Md., outside Baltimore, pilgrims walked the grounds and visited a schoolhouse with original colonial furniture at the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who in 1808 founded the nation's first Catholic school and first women's religious order, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph.
Born into a wealthy Anglican family, St. Elizabeth converted to Catholicism after her husband's death, leading to her rejection by family and friends. She came to Maryland to open the school at the invitation of Bishop Carroll.
Pilgrims then traveled to nearby Mt. St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, the nation's second oldest and second largest Catholic seminary, founded in 1808 and located in a bucolic setting. They dined with the 15 Atlanta seminarians studying there and celebrated an outdoor Mass among chirping crickets in a grotto modeled after the one at Lourdes, France. Later the seminarians, some of whom are Hispanic, entertained them with Spanish songs.
The group also visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1926 near Catholic University and the largest church in the Americas. The basilica holds a mosaic of "Christ in Majesty," made up of nearly three million tiles, and 65 chapels celebrating the diverse religious heritages of generations of U.S. Catholic immigrants.
One chapel, for example, honors Mary, Queen of Ireland, placing this statute in a niche beneath a Waterford crystal chandelier and by a green marble wall with a map of Ireland and image of St. Patrick. Pilgrims said the rosary in an area with mosaics of Bible stories. In corresponding images of Mary's Annunciation and Moses being called by God, guide Renata Grzan pointed out how both said yes to God despite much uncertainty and grew as a result.
"As we say yes, we don't lose anything of ourselves, but become more of who we are to be," she said.
The archbishop was the principal Mass celebrant in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, with shimmering gold accents. He spoke of the ebbs and flows of faith and of the natural need for spiritual renewal. He called the Lord "the everlasting relief to souls which grow weary in their search for the absolute truth," and grace "the taste of the eternal fullness of God's love."
"We uncover the meaning of the pilgrimage we are upon-the novelty, the beautiful places and churches, the heightened experience of fellowship that comes with traveling together-these are but the daily facts of our ordinary lives with the volume turned up just a bit. But the meaning, the power behind the volume, whether low or high, is that our Lord is with us every day-every day, even though every day may feel, at its beginning, like a journey to get through, full of obstacles and discouragement," he said.
"But every day's journey, can end in one special place, if we order our lives in the proper way. Every day's journey can proceed by the house of our neighbors, where there is always plenty to do-care, concern, a helping hand and an encouraging word-charity and love-and every day's journey can find its destination at the nearest church . . . May, then, our pilgrimage not end with this week, but begin every morning of every day, for the rest of our lives, and our rest not be taken, until we awake in Heaven."
Pilgrims rose for a 6:30 a.m. Mass also celebrated by the archbishop before heading back to Atlanta. Mastrolia was "in awe" of the beauty of the Washington Shrine's mosaics, as she contemplated the years artisans took in making them. She enjoyed spending time with the archbishop and meeting the seminarians of the archdiocese.
"(The seminarians) were so open to us. They are going to be the future of the archdiocese. I think it was pretty exciting to them and us, to put faces to future priests," she said. Additionally, "I've never seen a cleric of (the archbishop's) level that communicates with his people as much as he does."
A native of Cuba, Connie Alonso learned more about the history of the U.S. church on the pilgrimage while also becoming more connected to it. Also a member of the archbishop's pilgrimage to Ireland in 2002, she said both trips deepened her spirituality and sense of a calling to serve others in her daily life.
"You can do your job wherever you are. You say, 'I'm not important.' You don't have to be important (by worldly standards). Just do your job . . . Jesus came with a purpose. Everybody comes with a purpose."