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Annual Marian pilgrimage returns to National Shrine


For The Dialog


WASHINGTON – On a day when Bishop Malooly rededicated the Diocese of Wilmington to the Immaculate Conception, many who participated in the daylong Marian pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception felt their faith revitalized.

“You might already be aware that this country is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Mary,” Bishop Malooly said. “Today, we dedicate our diocese once again. … Let her bring us even closer to her son, Jesus.”

He also noted that two Eastern Shore of Maryland parishes in the diocese share names with the national shrine: Immaculate Conception in Elkton and Immaculate Conception in Marydel.

Bishop Malooly asked those attending the pilgrimage to see Mary “as our mother and our protector … and ask her to support us and to support our diocese.”


‘Spiritual shot in the arm’

About 350 people from at least 25 parishes participated in the Sept. 30 Marian pilgrimage, many traveling aboard buses chartered by parishes. It was the first pilgrimage to the National Shrine near the Catholic University in Washington since 2009.

Students from the University of Delaware pose with Bishop Malooly. (Courtesy Kim Zitzner)

In the intervening years, the diocese’s Marian pilgrims have gathered annually at the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace on the campus of Holy Spirit Church in New Castle.

After the welcome in Washington, participants walked through the massive basilica and visited side-altar shrines to Mary under many of her titles — such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Mother of Lourdes, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Mother of Good Counsel — and events in the lives of Mary and Jesus, along with statues of saints. A guidebook lists 99 shrines and statues in the basilica, in addition to the massive church on the upper level and a large Crypt Church on the lower level.

A Holy Hour featured the recitation of the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary and a Mass in the Crypt Church for diocesan pilgrims highlighted the day’s activities.

“Today is a spiritual shot in the arm for the diocese,” Bishop Malooly said.



Many who participated agreed.

“It reawakened my faith, renewed my faith,” said Mary Ellen Phillips of Our Lady of Lourdes in Seaford. “This is my first time here but I would come back every week if I could.” She noted it features “such beautiful words and statues and colors” that, combined with the church history it represents, “is amazing.”

Alan Rogers of St. Paul in Delaware City had been on an earlier pilgrimage to the basilica national shrine. He attended some of the Marian rallies in New Castle since the last shrine pilgrimage in 2009, but despite the beauty of the Queen of Peace statue, “It doesn’t replace this,” he said, citing the national shrine’s “unique” aspects, including the Crypt Church.

That church also impressed University of Delaware freshman Briana Martinez. “My favorite part was during the Holy Hour seeing how beautiful the Crypt Church is. “

“There’s so much to see here,” said fellow UD freshman Julia Gray; she and Martinez were part of a contingent from St. Thomas More Oratory in Newark. “I especially liked the statues.” Her favorite was St. Teresa of Calcutta. “She’s more recent. I know more about her.”

Eighth-grader Henry Stockman, another member of the group from St. Thomas More Oratory, was drawn by the architecture and artwork, calling it “magnificent” and “awesome.” Each chapel had its own style, he said, such as the Our Lady of Hope Shrine that featured “a cross surrounded by fluid metal which represents Mary” in outline form. He called it both abstract yet obvious.

“Each of the chapels is different,” he noted.


‘This is breathtaking’

Former Delawareans Bill and Maryann Missimer may have traveled the farthest for the pilgrimage. The Wilmington natives now live in Plano, Texas. Missimer said they were planning to visit when a sister-in-law told them of the pilgrimage.

Bill Missimer said he has watched the Christmas Eve Mass broadcast from the National Shrine but that he still was overwhelmed by its beauty. “You can’t describe this,” he said.

Rosemarie DeLong, a retired longtime teacher at Corpus Christi School, made her first visit to the shrine, coming on a bus from St. Matthew’s and Corpus Christi churches. “I’m thrilled to get here. This is breathtaking. I love the Blessed Mother.”

That love was forged by her mother, especially, and honed by Marian processions while growing up in Penns Grove, N.J. “I grew up with the Blessed Mother.”