Marian pilgrimage in Europe
Dateline: Fatima, Portugal: As of the time of this writing, we are in the final leg of our Marian Pilgrimage in France, Spain and Portugal. Whenever we visited a church, I learn more about the life of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary who accompanied Jesus up to her son’s death on the Cross. Our pilgrimage started with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France and ended with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. As pilgrims, we prayed daily the Morning Offering, the Prayer to the Holy Spirit, Prayer of Travelers and Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, followed by the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. Fr. Altaire Fernandez, a pastor at Sta. Clara Parish in Oxnard, California was the Pilgrimage Chaplain; he presided over the Mass every day and delivered very informative and inspiring homilies.
Our Pilgrimage was a long haul from Los Angeles, stop-over at London Heathrow Airport to Toulouse, France Airport and 3-hour drive to Lourdes, France. There was heavy traffic in Toulouse, so we missed the 9pm candle-lighted procession. The following evening, the pilgrims were able to join the procession where the 5 decades of the rosary are prayed in different languages and Lourdes hymns were sung. We had Mass at one of the Chapels, visited the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, experienced the healing bath after a long queue, drank the water from the miraculous spring which many pilgrims drank and brought home. We dropped the prayer petitions at the Grotto of the Apparition, touched the rock of the cave and prayed to Our Lady of Lourdes. When I was at Lourdes in June this year, I did not attempt to join the uphill and downhill climbs of the Way of the Cross, but this time, I successfully hurdled the steep climbs. This is my 3rd visit to Lourdes but I pray that I may be able to come back.
Next stop is the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, the Black Madonna and Child, located in the rugged Montserrat Mountain in Spain. According to stories, St. Luke carved the statue of the Black Madonna and brought it to Spain. It was hidden from the Moors and later were rediscovered by the shepherds who were drawn to a grotto by a bright light and heavenly music. The Bishop of Manresa suggested that it be moved to Manresa, but the image was too heavy, thus, the Virgin remained in Montserrat. My sister and I were the 1st and 2nd reader during the Mass that was celebrated here on the Birthday of our Mother Mary. We were able to touch and kiss the image of Our Lady. It was said that “in all the ages the sinful, the suffering, the sorrowful, have laid their woes at the feet of Our Lady of Montserrat, and none have ever gone away unheard of or unaided.” St, Ignatius of Loyola made an annual pilgrimage to Montserrat.
We visited the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia and Santa Merce or what is known as Barcelona Cathedral. Santa Eulalia was a 13-year old girl who suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Christians. She refused to renounce her Christianity and was subjected to 13 tortures—putting her into a barrel with knives and rolling it down a street (our tour guide brought us to that street), burning her breast, crucified on an X-shaped cross and was decapitated.
Next stop was the unfinished Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, the fruit of the work of Antoni Gaudi; his tomb is inside the Basilica. More than 135 years after the laying of the cornerstone in 1882, on the Feast of St. Joseph, it is still under construction and is expected to be completed in 2026. When completed, the Basilica will have 18 towers, 12 will represent the apostles, 4 will represent the evangelists, one will be designated for the Virgin Mary and the last one, the highest in the middle, will represent Jesus Christ. The interior of the Basilica is so big, with huge stained glass along the walls and huge pillars.
Next stop was the magnificent Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain. It was built at the site where the Virgin Mary, during her lifetime, visited St. James and gave him a column of jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor. The Virgin Mary told St. James “This place is to be my house, and this image and column shall be the title of the temple that you shall build.”
After a year, a chapel was built in honor of the Virgin Mary. When St. James returned to Jerusalem, he was executed by Herod Aggripa, the first apostle to be martyred for his faith. His disciples took his body and buried him in Spain. The pillar with the Virgin Mary standing on the top is located to the left side of the Altar. We were able to touch and kiss the pillar.
The next stop is the Cathedral of St. Mary of Burgos. Construction began in 1221. The style of the Cathedral is Gothic but it has decorative Renaissance and Baroque elements. It was made of limestone. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1984. The pilgrims going to El Camino de Santiago Compostela may find the Camino Way from Burgos.
Then we walked the El Camino de Santiago Compostela or the St. James Way which leads to the Shrine of Apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain where the remains of St. James are buried. Many follow the route by hiking and cycling, a form of spiritual retreat. We walked almost 8 miles of rugged terrain, uphill and downhill, from Villamayor to a point near the Cathedral. It was a good walk where one can smell the eucalyptus and other herb trees; one will enjoy nature’s sceneries. One cannot miss along the trails the scallop shell symbol. Shell are usually carried by pilgrims to gather water to drink or as makeshift bowl for eating (more on this in my next column).
Whenever St. James Feast falls on a Sunday (July 25), the Cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Day, the most recent was in 2010 and the next is 2021. The Cathedral is under construction in preparation for the 2021 event. We were blessed to embrace the image of St. James and visit his tomb at the crypt, but we were not lucky to see the huge botafumerio or thurible, the largest censer in the world weighing 80 kilos and 1.6 meter in height.
Last stop is the Sanctuary of Fatima, Portugal. We visited the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary where the tomb of Sts. Francisco, St. Jacinta and Sister Lucia are located near the Altar; the Chapel of the Apparition where the Virgin Mary appeared 5 times to the three children, the 4th apparition happened on August 19, 2017 in Valinhos, near the house of the children; the Basilica of Most Holy Trinity and the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. We joined the candlelighted procession for 3 consecutive evenings, preceded by the praying of the rosary. We were also lucky to meet and kissed Maria, the 99-year old niece of Sister Lucia. (To be continued)