By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

Approximately 2,000 pilgrims from all over the Archdiocese are expected to board buses on Saturday, May 2, for the biennial pilgrimage to “America’s Church,” the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

“We are inviting everyone to participate through their parish,” said Father Zachary R. Navit, who is the coordinator of this year’s pilgrimage.

As a special feature, this year is a jubilee year for the shrine in honor of the 50th anniversary of the completion of the great upper church, and the Holy Father has granted a plenary indulgence to pilgrims.

Conditions for the indulgence are “confession and Eucharistic prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions,” Father Navit explained.

A special archdiocesan intention will be “prayer for peace in our city and archdiocese along with prayer for the safety of those who protect us,” he said, and those who cannot attend the pilgrimage are invited to join in prayer at home.

The pilgrimage, which is traditionally held every other spring, will include Mass celebrated by Cardinal Rigali, a procession, the crowning of a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a rededication of the Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There will be opportunities to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation and praying the rosary.

The basilica, the largest church in North America and arguably the most beautiful, is noted for its artwork especially its outstanding mosaics, including the huge dome mosaics and the apse mosaic of Christ – one of the largest in the world.

Guides will be on hand to explain the various features. There are also free maps of the complex available from personnel, and excellent guidebooks can be purchased in either of the two lower level gift shops.

It is a long day, and the lower level also has a huge cafeteria for the hungry, a favorite haunt for students from the adjacent Catholic University of America.

Special features of the basilica are the many side chapels, shrines and oratories dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under titles by which she is especially venerated in the various countries of the world.

Fathers Joseph F. Okonski and Louis J. Kolenkiewicz head the committee which is inviting representatives of the various nationalities to visit the shrine or chapel which honors Mary as she is venerated in their ancestral homeland.

They are also inviting representatives of local police and fire departments and the military to the pilgrimage as well as family members of those who died in the line of duty, noted Father Okonski. “We want to highlight and pray for those who have given their lives for our protection and our freedom,” he said.

There will also be a youth component to the pilgrimage, according to John Tague, director of the archdiocesan Office for Youth and Young Adults.

“We want to heighten the awareness of the pilgrimage among the youth in the parishes and high schools. It is a beautiful experience,” he said.

There will be a praise and worship service for youth in the lower crypt and chapel, the oldest section of the shrine, featuring the local music group, Bethany. There will also be a presentation by a priest experienced in youth ministry and a “quest” throughout the basilica to acquaint the young people with its artwork and other outstanding features.

“We hope to have many of the vicariate Youth Advisory Board members on the pilgrimage,” Tague said.

Are you planning to attend the May 2 archdiocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception? Check with your parish for availability of a bus or buses there or at a neighboring parish.

For more information on busing to the shrine, contact Father Navit at 215-222-5819.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.