For the second year in a row, the Augustinian Friars at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in South Philadelphia started Holy Week in a unique way — with a walking pilgrimage through Philadelphia.
The Shrine hosts this walk as a way to invite faithful to prepare for the spiritual journey of Holy Week, as well as to offer witness to the power of healing, reconciliation, and peacemaking to our city. This year’s walk was for the intention of victims of gun violence.
The three-mile trek began at the National Shrine of Saint Rita and ended at the Healing Garden at Saint Augustine Church in Old City. The Healing Garden was constructed in 2018 by the Augustinians as a way to specifically remember and pray for the victims of violence.
Along the journey, participants —which included Augustinian Friars, Augustinians in every stage of formation, as well as Shrine patrons, as well as faithful from throughout the Archdiocese — stopped at 11 locations where gun violence has occurred since 2022.
At each stop, participants read a short account of what happened, prayed for the victims and perpetrators, and observed a moment of silence. Two of the stops were just outside the Shrine property. Other stops were located on Washington Avenue, 5th Street, and South Street.
Pilgrims also observed a moment of silence at Independence Hall to recognize the many other forms of violence in our world such as domestic abuse, bullying, and oppression of the poor and marginalized. The group then prayed for our national leaders to work together to enact policies that reduce and eliminate all forms of violence.
The Shrine has started to offer this annual pilgrimage, in part, because Saint Rita certainly understands the impact that violence can have on a community. She was born in Italy in 1381 into a society plagued with much civil unrest and violence, not unlike our own City today.
In her early teens, she married into a family at war with another family. She became widely known as a peacemaker after she brokered peace agreements not only with her in-laws, but with countless others plagued by turmoil and conflict. For her steadfast defense of peace and justice, she came to be known as the patron saint of peacemaking and reconciliation.
Today, we believe she can intercede for our own world, our City, and our families as we continue to overcome various forms of violence.
“Our walk should represent something that happens within us. As we begin our journey at one point to arrive at another, we should also arrive at a different place spiritually,” said Fr. Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A., the pilgrimage’s coordinator and the Shrine’s Director of Evangelization and Discipleship.
The walk gave everyone a chance to not only invoke the intercession of Saint Rita for an end to violence, but to also reflect on the start of Holy Week.
Saint Rita had a deep devotion to an image of the Resurgent Christ or “Christ of Holy Saturday.” In this image, Saint Rita acknowledged the wounds of Christ’s Passion, but also found consolation in the hope of His Resurrection. A replica of this image, designed by local artist Anthony Visco, can be found in the Lower Shrine of the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia.
Not unlike Saint Rita’s own reflections on the image of Christ, the pilgrimage offered participants an opportunity to acknowledge the wounds of violence in our City while also looking forward in hope.
One pilgrim remarked afterward, “It offered me a tangible way to respond to escalating gun violence in our City through individual and collective prayer, as well as an invitation to examine my own posture.”
They continued, “Do I meet difficult situations with love? Do I choose the non-violent path? I am grateful for the opportunity to be the Church, outside, in the street, working for a more peaceful future.”
The Shrine anticipates scheduling additional pilgrimages to pray for peace in the Spring or Summer.
To learn more or support the mission and ministries of the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, please visit www.SaintRitaShrine.org.
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