Pilgrimage to National Shrine Was Personal Journey of Faith


About 600 pilgrims from parishes across the archdiocese journeyed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for the Pilgrimage of Mercy led by Cardinal Dolan on Oct. 15.

Almost all traveled on one of a dozen chartered buses, and many had personal reasons for coming. Some even had to overcome obstacles to visit Our Lady’s house, which left them feeling downright uplifted.

Eddie Castillo, who was joined by his wife Victoria and sister Maribel Flaquer, was full of praise for the Year of Mercy when CNY caught up with him waiting outside one of the basilica’s gift shops. “It’s been a wonderful year,” he said. “We have felt a lot of peace in our home and family.”

Castillo added, “We’re all looking for His mercy.

“This planet is going the wrong way. We need Him to have lots of mercy.”

Castillo explained that he felt very fortunate to be on the pilgrimage because he and his wife made a late start in their planning. The parishioners of Good Shepherd in Inwood found that there was no room on buses from Manhattan, so they were put on a waiting list before spots opened up on a bus from the Bronx.

After spending a couple of hours in the majestic basilica filled with 80 chapels and oratories, including dozens dedicated to the Blessed Mother in her various titles, Castillo said, “It’s the most beautiful place I’ve been my whole life.”

His wife, Victoria, who works in the archdiocese’s Manhattan regional schools office, shared her own story of reconciliation and resurrection. “In my personal opinion, the Year of Mercy was important to me spiritually. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, I received a lot of graces.

“I came because I love Mary,” she said. “Like everybody else, I was looking for grace and deeper meaning of faith.”

Ms. Flaquer said that she had investigated the possibility of attending the pilgrimage, but was frustrated until her family members reached out to include her. She and Mrs. Castillo are both catechists at Good Shepherd.

She said she had told God, “I’ll leave it in your hands, and then (Mrs. Castillo) called me. I said, ‘God, I am so grateful you answered my call.’”

The pilgrims from New York each had an opportunity to pass through the shrine’s Holy Doors as they entered the enormous basilica that is the largest Catholic church in North America.

“Am I ever proud to see so many pilgrims. Thanks for coming,” Cardinal Dolan said in his words of greeting to the New Yorkers assembled in the cavernous Upper Church.

“We’re going to leave here spiritually refreshed,” added the cardinal, who prayed the Angelus with pilgrims.

The pilgrimage was the second time the cardinal led New Yorkers to the shrine. The first, in November 2014, attracted about 200 pilgrims.

The overhead view inside the Upper Church was partly shrouded as a construction project proceeds on the Trinity Dome, the final element of the basilica’s original design.

The New Yorkers were also welcomed by one of their own, Msgr. Vito Buonanno, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who serves as the shrine’s director of pilgrimages. Citing Pope Francis, he encouraged the pilgrims to allow their journey and prayerful experiences in the basilica to be “an impetus to conversion.”

“Where would we be without our faith?” Msgr. Buonanno asked. “It is our faith that brings us here.”

Along with ample time to tour the shrine, pilgrims spent the bulk of the prayerful afternoon downstairs in the Crypt Church. There was an opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, recite the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and participate in the Vigil Mass offered by Cardinal Dolan.

Karen Gray, a parishioner of St. Adalbert and St. Roch on Staten Island, said the pilgrimage reinforced her Catholic faith. Even though she came by herself, she said that “the beautiful people” she met made her feel far from alone.

“I always feel a sense of being home no matter where I am in the Catholic Church,” Ms. Gray said.

“The basilica is like a jewel,” she said. “The beautiful tile work is not just shiny, it’s glowing in God’s light.”