'Passport' activities help teach youngsters about Blessed Mother during pilgrimage
By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor and Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Listen carefully to the hum of prayers, conversations and camaraderie in both the upper and lower chambers of “America’s Catholic Church,” and those visiting the basilica in the nation’s capital Nov. 4 could also hear the squeak of tennis shoes as hundreds of excited children made their way from shrine to shrine.
As part of the Trenton Diocese’s pilgrimage, children received a “passport” upon their arrival to the Basilica. Once inside, the youngsters, along with their adult chaperones, were asked to visit 20 designated side chapels – 10 in the Great Upper Church and 10 in the Crypt Level – that are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There, they heard stories or saw skits about the Blessed Mother under her chosen title. The stories and presentations were given by a dozen diocesan staff members and 10 deacons.
After each presentation, the chapel presenter stamped the children’s “passports,” the goal of which was to teach the youngsters about the shrines, the Blessed Mother and faith.
“I think the passports make it fun for the kids, and it seems to make them more attentive while giving the lesson in the chapel,” said Deacon Matt Nicosia of St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan.
Deacon Nicosia, along with Deacon Joseph Richichi of Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, were stationed in Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel in the Great Upper Church, where they focused on certain symbols in the chapel, made the connection to St. Dominic and the Mysteries of the Rosary, talked about the prayers of the Rosary and explained how it is a devotional practice that involves the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus in addition to the special place of honor Mary holds.
“Every person is going to get something different out of praying the Rosary depending where they are in their faith journey,” Deacon Nicosia said. “Older folks seem to understand the devotional and contemplative prayer value of this practice, but not so much with younger folks. I hope my participation gave young people a better understanding how the Rosary can and should be an important part of their prayer life.”
Deacon Richichi said he was delighted to share the story of the Rosary and how the prayers originated with the Blessed Mother who gave the decades to Dominic in a vision.
Deacons Luders Desire of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, and Thomas Begley, of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, served in the shrine to Mary as the Mother of Sorrows.
“Even those children who were very small wanted to know about her,” Deacon Begley said.
Deacon Desire estimated that he shared the story of the sorrowful mother with at least 300 children and adults. “Mothers, especially, were touched by the Pieta – [the Crucified] Jesus in the arms of his mother. They felt it deeply,” he said.
As Raquel Vazquez of Christ the Redeemer Parish, Mount Holly, accompanied her two grandchildren, 11-year-old Zofia Pearce and her 6-year-old brother, Zachary, to the various shrines in the Crypt Level, Zofia smiled at having visited four chapels as she was well on her way to visiting more.
Zofia said her favorite chapel, at that time, was Our Lady of Hope, with its serene, park-like setting made of white marble, bronze sculptures of Mary and two angels. Zofia said she found the chapel to be quiet and peaceful.
Vazquez added that Zachary had knelt and prayed at each of the chapels he visited and was quite taken with the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel, with its vibrant colors and mosaics that featured the four Evangelists and Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“Today has been a wonderful experience,” Vazquez said.