WASHINGTON (CNS) — As three choirs sang a modern-day arrangement of the “Memorare” together May 11, a Vietnamese father, mother and daughter in traditional “ao dai” attire walked reverently to the front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington and placed an ornate crown on the statue of Mary to the left of the altar.

“She is indeed a pillar of faith,” Msgr. Vito A. Buonanno, the shrine’s director of pilgrimages, remarked afterward. “We come as a people … diverse, yet united. … On this day in Mary’s house, we give her honor.”


On the very top of the baldachin altar in the national shrine is a statue of Mary, and just behind, in the north apse, can be seen the face of the mosaic “Christ In Majesty.” Listening to the pilgrimage director speak about the importance of going to Jesus through Mary, one could see the concept played out literally in the architecture and art of the “house of Mary” shrine.

Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, the shrine’s rector, estimated that about 20 different communities from across the nation turned out for the “Asians and Pacific Islanders for Mary” pilgrimage.

After a semi-circle of young men and women with blue and white outfits and glittering light blue and pink head bands from the St. Andrew Kim Korean Catholic Church in Olney, Md., played traditional Korean “buk” drums, the pilgrimage began with a procession in the Upper Church.

Many children garbed in elaborate attire helped to carry huge signs, which identified each community. Countries represented included the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Lanka, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Samoa and India. Several of those who were not carrying signs or platforms with statues of Mary, held rosaries in silent prayer.

Toward the back of the procession came a group from New York, carrying decorated umbrellas, and pushing a huge Marian platform complete with electric lights and flowers.

“Mary, show us the way to love and serve you,” sang the choir during the procession.

Honoring Mary and saying the rosary is an important part of the Samoan culture, Louisa Dwyer, who was representing the Washington area’s Maria le Tina Paia Samoan Catholic Community, told Catholic News Service.

Four young representatives of the Samoan community performed a traditional dance in honor of Mary during the “Sacred Songs and Movements” portion of the pilgrimage. The leader of the crew, Rosey Williams, wore a “tuiga,” or a large ceremonial headdress made from human hair and decorative feathers.

She told CNS that she was a “little nervous” about dancing in front of so many people, but that when she was up there dancing, she just did it for God.

A multilingual rosary followed before celebration of the Mass by Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington.

“God made us for community,” he said in his homily. “Our heart is restless until it rests in you,” he quoted St. Augustine, explaining that part of walking toward God is reaching out to others.

Mary experienced suffering as she walked with her son to his crucifixion and holiness during her assumption into heaven, said the bishop, highlighting two examples of the spiritual life which Mary experienced.

“May we be open to receive courage for the pilgrimage along the way toward full maturity of faith and of love,” he said.

During the presentation of the gifts, a long procession of people from all corners of the world came bearing gifts of all form and variety, as if they were Magi presenting gold, frankincense and myrrh at the feet of the baby Jesus.

At the sign of peace, Indian women wearing traditional saris wrapped over decorative blouses welcomed Korean women in “hanbok” dresses. Samoan sons shook hands with Indian sons. Vietnamese nuns, in their limited English, brought warmth and a smile to those around them.

“Your music gave us a glimpse of what heaven might be like,” Sister Anna Nguyen told the choirs that sang for the pilgrimage. A Sister of Christian Charity, she is assistant director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

The pilgrimage was sponsored by the Asian Pacific Catholic Network of the mid-Atlantic Region, in collaboration with the USCCB secretariat.