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6) Plan a mini pilgrimage to a local shrine; make an effort along the way to live the corporal work of mercy of “welcoming the stranger” as Christ.—56 Ways to Be Merciful in the Jubilee Year of Mercy
Growing up Catholic in San Diego, in the shadow of the first of 21 missions founded by St. Junipero Serra, clearly influenced my life as a nomadic Catholic, seeking out sacred sites that raise my mind and heart to God. As I moved around the country and the world, I learned that no matter where I am, a Catholic church is always home.
While I have been blessed to make a few of the “big” pilgrimages — to the Holy Land, Rome, Fatima — I still find a great deal of comfort knowing that there are no fewer than five small shrines all less than a 30-minute drive away from my little neighborhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I remember when we first moved here, I was amazed at how few of the Catholics I met knew that we were so blessed. It made me wonder, how many more Catholic shrines and places of pilgrimage do we have in the United States? How many people know about them?
My desire to find out and share that knowledge led my husband and I to produce The Faithful Traveler, a television series that explores those very sites. We devoted our entire first series to local shrines, visiting some of the most astonishing shrines and cathedrals in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Shrines and places of pilgrimage take on many forms. There’s the little shrine, made up of a statue in a corner of a church, or the big shrine, like the National Shrines of Our Lady of Guadalupe or of St. John Nepomucene Neumann. I am also a fan of visiting cathedrals, because they are often stunning and historic and provide a plethora of little shrines or chapels to pray to many saints.
To live out this suggestion for the Year of Mercy, the first thing you have to do is find out if there is a shrine near you. Here are some ways to do that:
- Visit the map on our website. We recently added a map, linking to as many Catholic shrines and places of pilgrimage we could find in the internet universe. (If you know of a shrine of place of pilgrimage that’s not on the map, please let me know so I can add it!)
- Do an online search. A quick search of Catholic shrines and then your state should yield some results.
- Call your diocese and ask. They’re sure to know.
- Want some ideas? Watch our first series, The Faithful Traveler in the U.S.: East Coast Shrines
Once you’ve found your spot, plan to bring a book of spiritual reading. Or don’t. I’ll bet they have some good ones at the gift shop.
Bring your rosary and your list of prayer intentions.
If you have kids, bring them along! Visiting shrines is a great way to teach them about our faith.
Spend the day at the shrine, learning about the saint to whom or the devotion to which the shrine is dedicated.
And while you’re there, it’s a great time to move on to the second part of this challenge.
Welcome the stranger as Christ
The world can be a mean and unwelcoming place. But while I can’t control how others behave toward me, I can control how I behave toward them. A simple smile and saying hello does wonders. Mother Teresa was a great proponent of the smile:
“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
“Peace begins with a smile …”
Visiting shrines brings us face to face with strangers, and strangers provide us with the opportunity to grow in virtue, be it the virtue of patience, charity, or humility.
And of course, once we’re nestled into our own pew, we can perform some of the spiritual works of mercy by forgiving offenses and praying for the dead.
There are so many blessings to be had from making a local pilgrimage, I could go on forever. Instead, I’ll leave you with these words, spoken by the Virgin Mary to a young St. Catherine Labouré:
“Come to the foot of the altar, for there you will receive great graces.”
Diana von Glahn is the co-creator of The Faithful Traveler, a travel series for television that broadcasts on EWTN. The Faithful Traveler website provides access to her blog and photos from her travels. DVDs of her first two series can be purchased there, as well. Her upcoming special on Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land, A Papal Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, will be broadcast soon.