Communion and Mission

Nearly 600 people from the Diocese of Richmond celebrate Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on Saturday, Oct. 12. The Mass concluded a daylong pilgrimage that included visits to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America and the St. John Paul II National Shrine. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

Pilgrimage sets tone for diocese’s bicentennial


Welcoming nearly 600 pilgrims from the Diocese of Richmond to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday morning, Oct. 12, Bishop Barry C. Knestout called the pilgrimage — the first by the diocese in more than 16 years — an opportunity “to reinvigorate our commitment to the Church’s mission.”

So began a day on which a diverse group of the faithful — different in gender, age, race and ethnicity but one in baptism — came to tour, learn, pray and worship at “America’s Catholic Church,” as well as at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America and the St. Pope John Paul II National Shrine in Washington.

During the Diocese of Richmond’s pilgrimage to Washington on Saturday, Oct. 12, Bishop Barry C. Knestout venerates a first-class relic of St. John Paul II in the Luminous Mysteries Chapel at the St. John Paul II National Shrine. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

Throughout the morning, the bishop offered a reflection and prayed with attendees at five of the basilica’s 80- plus chapels and oratories that were of particular significance for Filipino, Vietnamese, African American and Hispanic pilgrims.

Phong Dinh, a member of Our Lady of La Vang, Norfolk, was heading to the chapel for his “favorite saint.”

“Our Lady of La Vang — that’s the one of Mary from Vietnam,” said Dinh, who was visiting the shrine for the first time.

Calling the pilgrimage “spiritual and very inspiring,” he was looking for one thing to happen that day.

Pilgrims pray before one of the Stations of the Cross on the grounds of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

“I am just hoping everybody gets blessed, not just for myself, but everyone,” Dinh said. “And I am praying for all who suffer sickness and for anyone.”

The other chapels where the bishop prayed and offered a reflection were Our Lady of Antipolo, Our Mother of Africa, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Blessed Sacrament.

Todd Palm, a member of Star of the Sea, Virginia Beach, didn’t know what to expect when he signed up for the pilgrimage.

“I was anticipating just a shrine, sort of like the cathedral in Richmond, but not with all of the different chapels underneath,” he said. “I had no idea that that was here.”

Palm, who did the second reading at the vigil Mass, said that he obtained “a greater understanding of what the shrine is all about and how that was a gift to America really, how that was intended for America and how it’s really inclusive of all the different parts of America, you know, all of the different people.”

Special memories

Bishop Knestout noted that growing up in the Washington area and having served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, the shrine held “special memories” for him, including his ordination as a priest and the funeral Mass for Cardinal James A. Hickey, who he served as priest secretary for 10 years.

The shrine also holds a special memory for Rachel and Chris Pocta, members of St. John the Apostle, Virginia Beach, who had driven up that morning.

“We were engaged there. It was 2010,” Rachel said, adding that they try to visit once a year with their family, which includes Grace, 7, and Harper, 3.

A guide at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, right, speaks to pilgrims in the shrine’s church. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

“We have a devotion to the Blessed Mother, and so we wanted to come to the shine with our family and just be with our diocese, too, as a community,” she said.

Chris welcomed the time for a family pilgrimage.

“This is something unique, and so we sort of jumped at the opportunity. And it’s great to be with our diocese, too, and be led by the bishop,” he said. “This is our first time sort of encountering the bishop and spending time with him.”

With its emphasis on the saints, the shrine was a welcome experience for Grace who, according to her mother, is fascinated by the saints.

One of the nearly 600 pilgrimage participants prays in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

Asked to name her favorite saint, Grace, clutching a “Lives of the Saints” book she had purchased in the shrine gift shop, replied, “St. Kateri Tekakwitha! Actually, I have three of them. One of them is St. Kateri, the other is St. Perpetua and the third one is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.”

The takeaway for the family, according to Chris, was the inspiration the day provided.

“Just the enrichment for our family spirituality, family devotion to our Lord and our Blessed Mother and something for our kids, I think, to remember very fondly, from this experience,” he said.

Prayer, knowledge

During the afternoon, pilgrims split their time between the St. Pope John Paul II National Shrine and the Franciscan Monastery.

In the Redemptor Hominis Church at the shrine, Bishop Knestout participated in the Divine Mercy Chaplet with the pilgrims. At the Luminous Mysteries Chapel, he venerated a relic of the late pope.

Pilgrims fill Redemptor Hominis Church at the St. John Paul II National Shrine to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

Hearing the bishop speak and praying with him was one of the reasons Karen and Steve Szewczyk, members of Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond, joined the pilgrimage.

“I want to gain a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and hear the bishop speak,” said Steve, a first-time visitor. “He always has some good insights, so I like listening to him.”

Karen added, “We want to gain spiritual knowledge.”

At the Franciscan Monastery, pilgrims toured the grounds and the replica of Holy Land sites, learning about Franciscan spirituality in the process. It provided another opportunity to pray as a community with Bishop Knestout.

The pilgrims assembled in the basilica’s Rosary Garden where the bishop led the Joyful Mysteries with deacons and women providing reflections for each.

Prior to the celebration of Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, pilgrims recite the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary in the shrine’s Rosary Garden. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

For Michael School, project manager for the Bicentennial Task Force, praying the rosary in the garden was an enjoyable part of the pilgrimage.

“I thought it was beautiful to see the bishop leading his people in prayer while reflecting on the important moments of Catholicism in our diocese,” he said.

Prayer is what inspired Sophia Dossett, a member of St. Gregory the Great, Virginia Beach, to join the pilgrimage.

“We wanted to be blessed and to pray,” she said. “We have a lot of prayers (to say).”

‘Extraordinary graces’

Bishop Knestout was the principal celebrant at the basilica shrine’s 5:15 vigil Mass. During his homily, he spoke about the “great value to visiting a shrine close to home.”

“I like to use the phrase, ‘Omni Trium Perfectum’ — all threes are perfect, and we have the blessing of having three national and international shrines very close to our home,” he said. “This blessing is so close to us that, like family or friends who we’ve known all our lives, we may take them for granted and not truly appreciate the extraordinary blessing they are to us.”

Pilgrims sing “Immaculate Mary” in the Rosary Garden after reciting the rosary. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

Noting the theme of gratitude in the Gospel for that Sunday (Lk 17:11-19), the bishop said that all should reflect on opportunities for pilgrimage and the Eucharist “as extraordinary graces that fill us with thanksgiving.”

He continued, “Thanksgiving, like charity, widens our vision to appreciate what God does and opens us to receive extraordinary graces in our lives every day, in small ways, that we see often as unextraordinary or simply part of the routine of life, but which are great, extraordinary and eternal in significance, only possible because of his providential care. This extraordinary grace comes to us in ordinary ways, like anniversary celebrations and pilgrimages.”

That gratitude, according to School, was present among the pilgrims.

“People overall seemed to experience a unity with other pilgrims from the diocese since the bishop was present throughout the day,” he said. “There always was gratitude for the things that happened during the pilgrimage — like prayer and art — that make us uniquely Catholic.”

Early to rise, early to pray

Colleen Connolly and Grace Miner, seniors at VCU, prepare to do a video interview during the diocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Saturday, Oct. 12. (Photo/Whitten Cluff)

College students, 5 a.m., Saturday.

One might think, “They’re just getting home from a night of partying.” For VCU seniors Colleen Connolly, Grace Miller and several friends, that was the time they awoke on Oct. 12 in order to catch a regional bus to Washington to participate in the diocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Connolly, a graphic design major from Pennsylvania, is the president of Catholic Campus Ministry at VCU.

“It’s just amazing to be part of such a close group of students and such a close parish (cathedral) family that any time we have the opportunity to go to the basilica or go on pilgrimage, I definitely feel just so blessed to have that opportunity,” she said. “So anytime we get this opportunity, I get to just hop on it.”

While Connolly had been to the basilica, she added, “I have never gotten a tour from the bishop before.” But she wasn’t there just for the tour.

“I definitely came hoping to get some time to pray for CCM — not only for the small things like midterms coming up for our students and all those things, but this year, we’ve definitely had an influx of new people, an influx of new freshmen — we’re up to 85 Catholic students at VCU (CCM),” Connolly said.

She said she has been “blessed” by CCM, citing the diversity and passion of its students.

“I’ve felt very humbled recently to be a part of and to be a leader of this great community, so I’ve come to bring some prayers for our community and to ask God for his help in guiding us, keeping us together through the stresses of school,” Connolly said.

Miner, a biology/pre-med major who oversees Bible studies at CCM, saw the pilgrimage as an opportunity to express gratitude to God.

“As a senior, I just really want to take as many of these opportunities while I can before medical school and just the busyness of adult life,” she said.

Miner said it was important to take “a day for prayer and thanksgiving for what God has given us.”

“Like Colleen said, we’ve been very blessed to be able to have the cathedral and the Catholic Campus Ministry community,” said the member of St. Joseph Parish, Hampton. “So just being able to kind of thank God for that and have peace and rest in that today.”

— Brian T. Olszewski

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