It has been on hiatus a few years, but, now, a beloved tradition for the diocesan family will return Nov. 12 when Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will be joined by clergy, religious and laity from throughout the Diocese’s four counties on pilgrimage to “Mary’s House” – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Reflecting the theme, “In Communion with Jesus – A Pilgrimage to Mary’s House,” the day will incorporate a focus on the Eucharistic Revival that will allow participants to experience both from national and diocesan perspectives.

The pilgrimage begins at noon and concludes with the celebration of Mass in the Basilica’s Great Upper Church. Prayer and fellowship begin on the bus ride to Washington as pilgrims will be encouraged to pray Morning Prayer and recite decades of the Rosary. Buses are departing from sites across the Diocese; interested pilgrims should contact their local parish for more information. The buses, are being sponsored by parishes and will depart New Jersey early in order to arrive at the Basilica by 11:30 a.m. 

Once at the Shrine, pilgrims will have an opportunity to attend a catechesis session with the Bishop and greet Msgr. Kevin Irwin, a noted scholar, theologian and author of more than 20 books and 70 articles on the Eucharist and liturgy.

Msgr. Irwin is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and has served on the faculty of the Catholic University of America, Washington, for more than 30 years. During the upcoming year, Msgr. Irwin has been invited by Bishop O’Connell to lead a number of presentations about the Eucharist in the Diocese including the convocations for priests and parish catechetical ministers both in September, and the convocation for permanent deacons in October.

Other pilgrimage highlights include touring the Byzantine-Romanesque Basilica, the largest Roman Catholic Church in the United States and North America and regarded as one of the 10 largest churches in the world. Pilgrims can visit the many shrines that are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her various titles; participating in prayer experiences such as the Angelus at noon, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the recitation of the Rosary; receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation and browsing in the bookstore and gift shop. A favorite activity for youngsters will be the “Pilgrim Passport,” in which children will be given a “passport” upon their arrival to the Basilica and then, after each shrine they visit on their tour, their passport will be stamped.

“With God’s grace, we will be able to finally gather as a Diocese at the National Shrine,” said Carolyn Norbut, diocesan director of pilgrimages, noting that in recent years the pilgrimage had been postponed because of the Covid pandemic.  She is coordinating plans with the parishes and has asked them to encourage their parishioners “to attend this beautiful day.”

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception holds great historical and ecclesiological significance as the pre-eminent Catholic church in the nation and the spiritual home of every Catholic in the United States.  Construction on the Shrine, whose interior measures 129,910 square feet and built in the style of a medieval church, began Sept. 23, 1920 and was officially completed Dec. 8, 2017, following the dedication of the Trinity Dome mosaic. The mosaic depicts the Blessed Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and a procession of saints, all of whom have an association with the United States and the shrine, and the four evangelists encircled by the Nicene Creed, according to the shrine’s website.

The Basilica features 81 Marian chapels and honors the Immaculate Conception as its patroness, a designation given to this country by the Vatican in 1847.

The Basilica has also hosted three popes: John Paul II on Oct. 12, 1990; Benedict XVI on April 16, 2008, and Francis on Sept. 23, 2015. The shrine was raised to the status of a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II following his 1990 visit there.

Although it does not have its own parish community, the Basilica serves the nearby Catholic University of America and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.