As Catholics wound down the Christmas season last week with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday, a group of worshipers at the National Shrine of St. Rita in South Philadelphia instead focused on a beginning, that of the shrine’s Reconciliation, Adoration and Witness (RAW) celebration on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

With the sun setting only minutes before the 5 p.m. start, shrine director Jonathan Jerome and Father Robert Guessetto, the prior of the Augustinian community at the shrine, called on figurative light to encourage the small crowd to examine the importance of the night’s themes to one’s spiritual path.

Along with inviting attendees to the sacrament confession, which four people accepted, Jerome and Father Guessetto said we must never forget a community’s role in uplifting us while also being tireless in performing the individual tasks that prayer perfects.


After the shrine’s pilgrims prayed before the exposed Blessed Sacrament and listened to guitar versions of songs such as “O Saving Victim” and “Tantum Ergo,” Roberta Acchione discussed her faith journey. Familiar with the ambo through her service as a lector at the shrine, Acchione spoke of the various ways that belief in God has strengthened her life especially throughout her 16 years of Catholic schooling and a 49-year marriage in which she bore two children.

“The power of prayer became every evident to me” early in life, she said, explaining that unwavering trust in God’s transformational power still leads her to “storm heaven” with petitions for grace and perseverance, topics that helped Jerome and Father Guessetto to select her as the inaugural witness giver for RAW.

“We’re planning to have RAW celebrations the first Wednesday of each month,” said Jerome, describing a pastoral planning decision that he and his colleague feel will bolster camaraderie and personal fortitude. “We’re going to see each time we gather as a chance to show trust in God’s plan for each of us and our responsibility to one another as community members and fellow believers.”

“We see their fidelity and their faithfulness,” Father Guessetto said of visitors to the shrine, “so we also want to hear about their rich and enriching faith journeys. Those are the aspects that we feel will truly help the RAW gatherings to foster even more fire within our hearts.”

On a sheet that included the Divine Praises, the pilgrims also inspected a series of questions that provided ways to examine one’s conscience, a vital part of receiving reconciliation. Seeking such information as “What steps am I taking to help myself grow closer to God and to others?” and “Do I insult others to try to make them think they are less than I am?” the inquiries figure to be big components of future RAW events, some of which, depending on where they fall during the liturgical calendar, might have built-in themes that the evenings explore.

“We can rub shoulders with people and not know exactly what brought them to their present state in life,” Father Guessetto said. “We’re eager to change that and to learn how St. Rita has been vital along the way.”

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