Oct. 6 was a splendid autumn day in Washington, D.C. Under the bright sun, patches of color shone luminous against the putty-colored steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: blue shirts emblazoned with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, fluorescent yellow T-shirts reading “Pilgrimage 2022,” and dozens of Catholic school uniform greens, maroons, and plaids.
For the first time since 2016, the faithful of the Diocese of Allentown, led by Bishop Alfred Schlert, made a pilgrimage to the Basilica for a day-long program of adoration, devotion, and worship.
Thirty-six buses transported over 1,500 parishioners, students, priests, and seminarians from all over the Diocese for a program of events honoring Our Lady under her title Mary, Mother of the Church.
“You are the evidence of faith that is alive!” said Monsignor Vito Buonanno, Associate Rector and Director of Pilgrimages at the Basilica, welcoming the faithful. “Alive in our Church, in our country, in your Diocese. You are the testimony of it. Proclaim the Word of God in your daily living, knowing that it is Mary who intercedes for us as our Mother who will take us always, as she does, to her Son.”
As if to confirm the beneficence of Our Lady toward the people of the Diocese, the pilgrimage fell on the vigil of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. “I think she made sure that today was a glorious day,” said Monsignor Buonanno.
The Basilica is the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and one of the 10 largest churches in the world. The diocesan faithful who took part in this year’s pilgrimage were among the nearly 1 million visitors received annually by the Basilica.
Adoration, Rosary, Reconciliation
Many of the diocesan pilgrims started the day with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Basilica’s Crypt Church. It is considered “the heart of the Basilica,” making it an appropriate place to worship the very Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“We concluded our Year of the Real Presence in our Diocese back on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in June,” said Monsignor David James, Vicar General of the Diocese of Allentown and Pastor of St. Peter, Coplay. “We’ve had a little over a year to deepen our reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist. And today our pilgrimage is an extension of that Year of the Real Presence.”
The Pilgrimage was also in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Diocese of Allentown, which was founded in 1961. The event had been scheduled last year, but was postponed amid pandemic restrictions in Washington.
In the afternoon, 10 priests from the Diocese heard confessions in Memorial Hall, and a bilingual rosary was prayed, with members of the Diocese leading alternating decades in English and Spanish.
Blessed Carlo Acutis
Father Mark Moretti, Parochial Vicar of Christ the Redeemer, Sterling, Va., was guest speaker at the pilgrimage. Having become fascinated in 2020 by the story of Blessed Carlo Acutis, Father Moretti has since dedicated himself to making that story more widely known.
Blessed Carlo was a typical teen who enjoyed movies, sports, and video games. He was also a frequent communicant who prayed before the Tabernacle before or after every Mass. He spent four years creating a website that catalogued Eucharistic miracles from all over the world. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 15, Blessed Carlo died in 2006 and was beatified in 2020.
A first-class relic of Blessed Carlo, given to Father Moretti by the Acutis family, was displayed outside the Basilica’s Miraculous Medal Chapel. Pilgrims lined up to venerate the relic, touching rosaries or prayer cards to the reliquary, and invoking Blessed Carlo for some of the Eucharistic fervor that he called his “highway to heaven.”
Father Moretti said Blessed Carlo “brings to the modern era a sense of wonder and awe in the presence of the Holy Eucharist. “He demonstrated by his whole life that purity, and goodness, and passion, and devotion to Christ are all that really, truly matter.”
Father Moretti stated that Blessed Carlo “renewed awareness in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist by his research with Eucharistic miracles.”
Father Moretti remarked that, in his last conversation with his parents and friends, Blessed Carlo said he was satisfied that he had “not wasted his time on frivolous things that distract him from Jesus.” Blessed Carlo’s liturgical feast is Oct. 12.
Solemn Pontifical Liturgy
Beneath a striking mosaic depicting Christ in His majesty, the faithful from all over the Diocese gathered in the Basilica for a Solemn Pontifical Liturgy.
More than 40 priests and seminarians participated in the Liturgy, which included elements in both English and Spanish.
“What a beautiful sight this is!” Bishop Schlert exclaimed at the opening of his homily. “I wish you could all be up here with me to see this beautiful Basilica just filled with our faithful people of the Diocese of Allentown.”
Bishop Schlert then made a request: “Before you leave today, before we get further into the Mass, please make your intentions of who you’re praying for, or what need you’re praying for. Our Blessed Mother will intercede for us, because we come here today as pilgrims to honor her.”
Inviting reflection on vocations, the Bishop said, “Let’s think about two vocations that make up our day today. The first, of course, is the Blessed Mother’s.
“We might ask ourselves, why was it Mary? Why wasn’t it Elizabeth, her cousin, or Mary’s neighbor down the street? Why was it Mary? We don’t know.
“Today, we heard about Carlo Acutis, a young man about the age of many of our high school students. Why was he able to do what he did, to spread his love of the Holy Eucharist? Why was it that God chose him? Well, he was chosen. All we know is he was chosen.
“So we have to think that a vocation is not knowing ‘why,’ but ‘what.’ What is God calling us to do? St. John Henry Newman said that each one of us is created for a unique purpose that no one else can fulfill. That’s the ‘what’ of a vocation.”
Bishop Schlert spoke about the challenge of hearing God’s call in a “world of noise” where “a lot of words are spit out every day, in print, on screens … words, words, words.”
He noted that, in contrast, the Gospels show that “when Jesus asks someone to do something, He uses very few words, like ‘Follow me.’ Very simple, direct, but few words. And that’s really how He calls us.”
Addressing the students and young people present, the Bishop asked, “Could it be that Jesus sees something in you, my young friends, that you don’t yet see in yourself?
“Some of you are being called to the Priesthood,” he asserted, “some to the religious life. So be open to the fact. Especially if you think ‘he’s not talking about me.’ The Church needs you. God is calling you to great things.”
Bishop Schlert closed with a plea for openness to the working of the Holy Spirit, and an invocation to Mary, Mother of the Church.
“Listen, listen, ask the Blessed Mother’s guidance and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. So that, like Mary, like Carlo, you can be that model of ‘Yes,’ in answering that call. If we all can do that together as a diocesan family of faith, our Diocese will continue to be so richly blessed.”