By Mary Morrell | Correspondent
For many Catholics, the word pilgrimage calls to mind the extraordinary spiritual experience of walking in the footsteps of Christ in the Holy Land or traveling to Rome to visit St. Peter’s Basilica.
Such pilgrimages of great distances, however, many not be possible for everyone due to the constraints of time, financial resources, and family or work obligations. The good news is that Catholics in the Diocese of Trenton are blessed to have an abundance of shrines, basilicas and cathedrals within a few hours’ distance that can serve as pilgrimage destinations.
Discussing one’s desire to go on pilgrimage, Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, said, “that journey, that walking, that not knowing what you are going to find, that is the value of pilgrimage. We travel in faith to find out something about ourselves and our relationship to God.”
One such pilgrimage destination can be a shrine, which Pope Francis has referred to as “the most eloquent expression of the faith of God’s people.” A shrine, as defined by Canon Law, is a church or other sacred place that has the approval of the bishop, is visited by the faithful as pilgrims and has some particular focus of devotion.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., is such an example. The Basilica is the largest Catholic church in North America and one of the 10 largest in the world. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Immaculate Conception and as patroness of the nation.
Shrine, cathedral and basilica websites are important resources for planning a pilgrimage, providing information about Mass and Confession schedules, virtual tours, parking information, additional sites and opportunities for prayer and reflection, layouts of the buildings and grounds, and hours of operation, cafeteria availability and information on the surrounding area.
Many shrines offer tours, guided or self-guided, which can be well-incorporated into a pilgrimage, but it is important that a pilgrimage does not become simply a tour and a stop in the gift shop, Msgr. Sirianni said.
The many shrines that could be visited in a day or two by pilgrims from the Diocese of Trenton include:
The National Blue Army Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, located on 140 acres overlooking the Musconetcong Valley, is dedicated to the message of Mary to three shepherd children at Fatima. Visit the shrine at 674 Mountain View Road, Asbury, 908-689-1700, www.bluearmy.com.
The Shrine of St. Joseph is a sacred place of pilgrimage, renewal of faith and enhancing family life that holds up the model of St. Joseph as helpful to all families. Its pilgrim chapel includes the extraordinary Life of St. Joseph mosaic. Visit the shrine at 1050 Long Hill Road, Stirling; 908-647-0208; www.shrineofsaintjoseph.com.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, situated on 60 acres in the mid-Hudson region of New York state, was founded to encourage and perpetuate devotion to Mary and her scapular under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Visit the shrine at 70 Carmelite Dr., Middletown, N.Y., 845-343-1879, www.ourladyofmtcarmelshrine.com.
Our Lady of the Martyrs Shrine is located in the hamlet of Auriesville, once the 17th century Mohawk village of Ossernenon. The shrine is dedicated to three Jesuit missionaries martyred there, and to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk/Algonguin woman born there. The shrine was named “Our Lady of the Martyrs” for Mary, who consoles those who give their lives for Jesus. Visit the shrine at 136 Shrine Road, Fultonville, N.Y., 518- 853-3939, www.ourladyofmartyrsshrine.org.
The Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, holds the tomb of the saint, canonized in 2000 and only the second saint born in America. Having come from a wealthy a family in Philadelphia, she gave up her life of privilege to serve the needs of racial minorities. Visit the shrine at 18th St. & Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia; 215-561-1313; http://cathedralphila.org.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, located on Beacon Hill, the highest elevation in Bucks County, and next to the Peace Valley Park, is focused on leading pilgrims to Jesus through his mother, Mary. Visit the shrine at 654 Ferry Road, Doylestown; 215-345-0600; www.czestochowa.us.
The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is dedicated to the life and mission of the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. The saint’s remains rest in a small copper casket enclosed in marble beneath the Altar of Relics in the Basilica. Visit the shrine at 339 South Seton Ave., Emmitsburg, Md.; 301-447-6606, https://setonshrine.org.