The peaceful mountainside of the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, Md., is a renowned place of pilgrimage devoted to the Blessed Mother. Each year, the shrine draws thousands of faithful from all over the world for prayer, praise and worship, reconciliation and conversion.
From the landmark 25-foot gilded statue of the Blessed Mother that towers above the shrine, to the replica of the Lourdes Grotto in France, and the shaded paths that weave along the Stations of the Cross, the Mysteries of the Rosary and statues of various saints, it’s no surprise why the grotto remains such a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics.
On August 4, a contingent of approximately 250 faithful from the Diocese of Harrisburg participated in the 36th annual Pilgrimage in Honor of the Blessed Virgin Mother, “A Day of Prayer for World Peace through Conversion.”
The Diocesan pilgrimage takes place annually on the first Thursday in August. It was initiated by the late Father Walter Sempko, who led a number of Catholics to the National Shrine Grotto after visits he made with various groups to Medjugorge. Today, the annual event is coordinated by Father Michael Reid, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Hanover, and Father John Hoke, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Milton, and continues to provide pilgrims an occasion to pray for the peace that comes from God through Mary’s intercession.
Pilgrims are invited to enter into the prayerfulness of the shrine, as they visit the grotto, which includes a stone from the Grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, ponder Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross at a scene of the crucifixion at the top of the mountain path, and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Bishop Ronald Gainer celebrated Holy Mass and presented a spiritual talk for this year’s pilgrimage, celebrated on the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests.
Celebrating Mass in the Chapel of St. Mary’s – also known as the “Glass Chapel” – the bishop remarked in his homily that the most important question of all questions is, “Who do you say Jesus Christ is?”
“Who do I put at the center of my life? Do I live as a disciple of His? This question cannot just be answered with words, but in how we live our lives,” the bishop said. “We have so many wonderful examples in our Catholic faith on how to live our life for Christ…. It of course begins with our Blessed Mother, St. Peter and St. John Vianney.”
St. John Vianney (1786-1859) was a focus of Bishop Gainer’s afternoon spiritual talk, given after Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Mary’s Chapel.
The 18th-Century French saint grew up in a time when Catholics were terrorized and persecuted. He made his first Holy Communion and first Confession in total secrecy, for fear that authorities would find out and punish him.
“St. John Vianney spent his years as a priest bringing fallen-away Catholics back to the Church in a secular France after the French Revolution,” Bishop Gainer said. “He stood true to the Catholic faith, no matter the danger or push back” and was known for hearing Confessions up to 14 or more hours a day.
“He knew sin was a horrible offense to a good God. He understood the cost of sin, and it is why he spent his life wiping away the sins of the faithful,” he said.
The bishop cautioned against the danger of diminishing our sin because we know that God’s Divine Mercy takes pity on us. “Mercy is not a nice gesture by a good God. We must be disgusted with our sin,” the bishop said.
The bishop said that St. John Vianney was a man of Eucharistic amazement. During Adoration, he would point to the Eucharist and say, “He is there.”
“It is well known that many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist,” the bishop said, pointing to a recent Pew Research study indicating that 30% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.
“This is why the U.S. Bishops have responded to the need to renew our devotion to the Eucharist,” he said. The Bishops have called for a National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative to inspire and prepare the faithful to be formed, healed, converted and united through a renewed encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist.
“Good Friday is a voluntary giving of life – not a taking of life – a supreme act of selfless love,” the bishop remarked. “It is not an ugly, horrible execution. It is a gift of life-affirming love.”
“Once you understand the Eucharist, your heart will not fall away,” he said.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness