The daylong excursion, a prayerful tribute to the Blessed Mother, will include spiritual activities focused on Mary, as well as time for personal prayer, fellowship, and the traditional Catholic practices of Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
"The spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage as a tribute to Mary cannot be over-emphasized,". Msgr. Richard Groncki, organizer of the event, said. Msgr. Groncki serves as the rector of Newark's Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart and director of archdiocesan pilgrimages. "The pilgrimage is meant to be a spiritual journey to honor Our Lady and to pray for the needs of the Church, both universal and local."
The magnificent basilica in the nation's capital is a stunning response to the proclamation by Pope Pius IX of Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the Patroness of the United States. Inspired by the acclamation, Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, then-rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, along with other area priests, began campaigning for a shrine to be built to honor Mary. By 1920, construction of the shrine was underway.
"The shrine," Bishop Shahan wrote before its construction, "should serve as a monument of love and gratitude, a great hymn in stone as perfect as the art of man can make it and as holy as the intentions of its builders could wish it to be."
Roseann Vasquez, executive assistant to Archbishop John J. Myers, who has traveled to the shine, said she enjoys the trip immensely. "I always thoroughly enjoy the day. It is a gift for the archdiocese to be there," she said.
The driving distance between Newark and Washington is about 220 miles. Estimated travel time is about four hours.
Individual parishes throughout the four counties of the archdiocese are drafting their own travel plans to visit the shrine. Interested parishioners are encouraged to contact their parishes for more information regarding cost, transportation and time schedules for the event.
The schedule for this year's pilgrimage includes the recitation of the rosary, both during the bus trip as well as at the shrine itself. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available between 11:30 a.m. and 12:40 p.m. A Mass celebrated by Archbishop Myers also is on the agenda. Two concerts (one organ, one carillon) are also part of the day, as well as a procession of banners from each participating parish from the archdiocese. Prayers offered during the pilgrimage will include intentions for the archdiocese, the country and the world.
The basilica, which was completed in 1959, was designed and built without the use of structural steel beams. It is made entirely of stone, brick, tile and mortar-much like the medieval cathedrals of Europe were built. It is home to the largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art in the United States, with more than 65 chapels and displays a magnificent array of mosaics, sculptures and artistic renderings.
Pope John Paul II, in 1990, named the national shrine a minor basilica-the 36th in the United States at the time. By way of comparison, the late pope also visited Newark on Oct. 4, 1995 and designated the archdiocese's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart as a minor basilica.
Although the Washington basilica does not have its own parish community, it serves the adjacent Catholic University of America, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the many pilgrims who visit the site each year. Msgr. Walter R. Rossi is the rector of the basilica.