Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., stands with pilgrims from a bus that arrived Nov. 4 from St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, during the diocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Jennifer Mauro photos

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., stands with pilgrims from a bus that arrived Nov. 4 from St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, during the diocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Jennifer Mauro photos

By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

They came from the four corners of the Diocese, many of them up before the sun to board nearly four dozen buses with one destination: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Some snuggled into jackets and toted stuffed-animal carrying children and lunch bags, while others shared smiles with family, friends, fellow parishioners, deacons and priests as they set off for the nearly four-hour drive to “Mary’s House” for the biennial diocesan pilgrimage Nov. 4.

Photo Gallery: Full coverage of the diocesan pilgrimage

Photo Gallery: Diocesan pilgrimage highlights

Along the way, pilgrims on each bus prepared for the day of faith that lay ahead, whether through collective prayer and recitation of the Rosary, or quiet time to reflect, thanks in part to Rosary finger rings and prayer cards donated by the Knights of Columbus. 

A video highlighting the Byzantine-Romanesque Marian shrine – which features more than 80 chapels and oratories dedicated to Catholic cultures and saints from around the world – prepared the pilgrims as the Basilica’s blue and gold crown peeked out from above the trees upon arrival. The Diocese’s faithful would be among the first to see the newly renovated Trinity Dome without scaffolding once they stepped inside “America’s Catholic Church.” The Diocese of Trenton contributed $100,000 to the mosaic work, and the dome will be officially dedicated Dec. 8.

More than 2,000 pilgrims of all ages and ethnicities, a large number representing the diverse Hispanic Catholic communities of the Diocese of Trenton, descended on the Basilica on the breezy autumn day, the brilliance of yellow-leaved trees standing in the shadow of the tallest inhabitable building in Washington and one of the 10 largest churches in the world.

There, they were personally greeted with a smile, handshake and even hugs by their shepherd, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., as they filed one by one off their buses.

“Nothing makes me happier than greeting the faithful of our Diocese whenever and wherever I can,” Bishop O’Connell said. “Together, as Vatican II reminded us, we are ‘the pilgrim people of God.’”

As the musical group Pascua Juvenil of St. Rose of Lima, Freehold, played mariachi music on the basilica’s steps, pilgrims took photos and video, greeted friends and talked with clergy. Some donned ponchos the color of Mexico’s flag and adorned with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe while others wore T-shirts proudly proclaiming their parishes. Some carried banners with the “Virgen de Guadalupe” on one side, and their parish community on the other.

Over the next several hours, these families, friends and men and women religious from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties prayed the Angelus (held at noon), listened to presentations given in various shrine chapels by a dozen Chancery staff and 10 deacons, gathered with the Bishop for an informational conversation and participated in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Children also received a “Pilgrim Passport,” where after certain chapel visits, they earned a passport stamp.

Helping to make the day a success were another dozen volunteers consisting of young adult and adult parishioners, who helped distribute worship aids and translation devices for the bilingual Mass, as well as parish leaders who helped organize the Diocese’s traveling torches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The day of faith culminated with Mass in the Great Upper Church with about 30 priests, 13 deacons – four of whom are expected to be ordained priests next year – five seminarians and 10 altar servers. They processed to the altar as the heavenly voices of the Diocesan Festival Choir, under the direction of Shawn Mack, led the congregation in song. The Readings were proclaimed and songs were sung both in English and Spanish.

The Bishop in his homily preached on the lives of saints, service to others and “the universal call to holiness.” 

“The call to holiness is given to us all and leads us, on pilgrimage, to humble ourselves before the Lord Jesus,” he said.

Before the end of Mass the Bishop lit the seven “Antorchas Guadalupanas,” which will now tour the Diocese in honor of the Blessed Mother until early December. As the Bishop followed the torches during the recessional out of the Basilica, mariachi music from Pascua Juvenil followed close behind.