Bishops process from the historic Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the modern basilica for a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Mexico City Feb. 13. The Diocese of Trenton is sponsoring a pilgrimage to the shrine with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in early December.  CNS photo/Paul Haring

Bishops process from the historic Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the modern basilica for a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Mexico City Feb. 13. The Diocese of Trenton is sponsoring a pilgrimage to the shrine with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in early December.  CNS photo/Paul Haring

By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent

A dream come true.

That was one way the upcoming pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is being described by those who have been working to make the journey possible.

“I was thinking there was no possibility, or that maybe in five years we would get to go,” said Josué Arriola, director of the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, who entertained the idea of the pilgrimage.

But after speaking with Father Jeffrey E. Lee, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, and diocesan director of pilgrimages, “Father Jeff said, ‘Nothing is impossible, let me talk to the Bishop’ – and then all of a sudden, it’s happening!” Arriola said.

Now, the Diocese is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine that  promises to offer not only an opportunity to commune with Bishop O’Connell, but also to draw participants closer to the Patroness of the Americas.

Set for Dec. 2-7, the itinerary includes, in addition to the shrine in Mexico City, visiting other historic and holy sites, attending Masses in various noteworthy churches and cathedrals, viewing and praying before relics of saints, and sampling local cuisine and music.

In addition to Bishop O’Connell and Father Lee, other priests already registered for the pilgrimage are Msgr. Leonard F. Troiano, episcopal vicar for planning; Msgr. Eugene Rebeck and Father Richard Gallagher, retired priests of the Diocese.

An important component of the pilgrimage, Father Lee noted, will be celebrating Mass at the Guadalupe Shrine, in a country from which the Diocese of Trenton continues to receive many immigrants alive with the Catholic faith.

“St. John Paul II during his epic pontificate re-affirmed Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron of America,” Father Lee explained. “While the U.S. still venerates Our Lady under the title of The Immaculate Conception, John Paul II saw the Americas as one America, as outlined in the report in the Synod for America during his pontificate.”

The pilgrimage will begin the day after the culmination of Las Antorchas Guadalupanas, the month-long celebration of torches in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe that travel to various churches throughout the four counties of the Diocese.

“This will be the third year we will be promoting the message of Our Lady,” Arriola said. “During the whole month of November, parishes will gather their prayer intentions with the torches.”

On Dec. 1, the torches make their final journey through the streets of Trenton, from nearby Catholic churches to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral. Those who open their doors to watch the procession, Arriola noted, will be invited to participate.

“We will have people going up to them with images of Our Lady, asking for intentions to bring to Mexico City,” he continued. “And then we will take those intentions on pilgrimage with us.”

In keeping with Bishop O’Connell’s dedication of the Year of Youth, a new element has been added to Las Antorchas Guadalupanas this year: schools and youth groups are specifically encouraged to participate in the procession.

“Our Bishop very much enjoys being with the people of his local Church,” Father Lee said. “We are grateful to him for his desire to continue to lead us to a deeper understanding of the mystery of being a Roman Catholic.”

Matthew Greeley, associate director for the diocesan Office of Communications and coordinator of Spanish-language communications and media, had an opportunity several years ago to visit various sites planned for the December pilgrimage.

“While working with the Salesians in the Artesenado de Nazareth outside of Mexico City, I had the chance to visit the Basilica multiple times,” Greeley said. “Seeing the Basilica of Guadalupe, the hill of Tepeyac, the plaza and old cathedral, the throngs of people with your own eyes is really something that can be seen with the heart. It is a miraculous place with a tangible connection to God.

"I was moved by many moments of my time there, but the most moving is seeing people on their knees slowly making their way across the plaza and into the basilica. It is a place of powerful transformation and grace for so many,” he said.

Pilgrimage Highlights:

Dec. 2   Depart United States, arrival in Mexico City: welcome Mass at Our Lady of Good Remedies Church; music in Garibaldi Square

Dec. 3   Mexico City: Visit Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe; Church of Santiago Tlatelolco, site of St. Juan Diego’s baptism; Tilma of St. Juan Diego; tour of San Juan Teotihuacan and archaeological zone; Pyramids of the Sun and Moon

Dec. 4   Excursion to Puebla, City of the Angels and Churches; Mass and Adoration in Chapel of the Rosary; Puebla Cathedral; Santo Domingo Church; Santa Monica Religious Museum; Church of St. Francis, which houses the incorrupt body of St. Sebastian; open-air market shopping

Dec. 5   Mexico City: Mass in Holy Family Church, tomb of Jesuit martyr Father Miguel Agustin Pro; Metropolitan Cathedral; National Palace; Plaza and Church of Santo Domingo; Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary; Shrine of Our Lady of Covadonga

Dec. 6   Mexico City: Church of the Fifth Apparition, site where Blessed Virgin Maria de Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino, and well of healing water; Mass in Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe; tour of Floating Gardens and farewell dinner with mariachi music