More than 80 pilgrims from the Diocese of Oakland journeyed to several Marian shines on a pilgrimage from Oct. 5-15.
Oakland group takes extraordinary 10-day pilgrimage
Two of the great saints pilgrims visited along the way: St. Vincent de Paul and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
We were about 83 pilgrims from the Diocese of Oakland who, from Oct. 5-15 experienced an extraordinary time together. Our destinations were some of the holiest sites in Europe: Fatima, Santiago de Compostela, Lourdes and several sites near Paris. The Lord seemed to smile upon us all the way. Weather forecasts for cold weather and rain were gratefully never realized. We had lovely travels with a minimum of weather-related hiccups.
After a pretty long day of travel from SFO to Amsterdam to Lisbon we were more than ready to board our two large buses to get on our way. Popping into the 15th-Century monastery of St. Jerome in Lisbon (just before they closed) we were able to get a taste of the magnificent medieval church architecture which would be experienced several times on our trip.
Moving north toward Fatima, we stopped for Holy Mass in Santarem, the site of a 13th-Century Eucharistic miracle. I have to say, it was an extraordinary pleasure to celebrate that Mass, all of us feeling like true pilgrims after more than 20 hours of non-stop travel. From there we went on to Fatima, a delicious dinner at our hotel, and for the intrepid among us (not this pilgrim), walking in the candlelight procession at the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. The next day we had early morning Mass at the apparition site of Our Lady of Fatima, followed by a full day of exploring the shrine and surrounding areas.
From Fatima we moved northward to Spain and Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle St. James lie. This ancient city is the destination of pilgrims who walk over 500 miles from Paris to honor "The Way" of St. James, popularized in a recent film of the same name starring Martin Sheen (highly recommended). A highlight of our visit to Santiago was the opportunity for about 35 of us to walk about 2 miles of The Way of St. James on an undulating path through woods and fields.
From Santiago de Compostela we drove on to Santander, a city on the north coast of Spain for the night, and from there on to Lourdes. The town of Lourdes is interesting in that much of the town has built up around the millions of pilgrims that journey there each year. Souvenir shops crowd with their garish neon signs and open storefronts line the streets selling all variety of rosaries, statues and containers for waters from the shrine discovered by St. Bernadette at the directive of the Virgin Mary herself. Once you pass into the shrine of Lourdes itself, however, it's a different world. It truly is. The beauty of the basilica built above the rock grotto where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette is striking, the grounds are lovely and peaceful, and the pilgrims seem to just beam with joy, uplifted by the graces that imbue this holy site. Especially beautiful is the way the "malades" — those who are sick or infirm — are treated. They get such attention and care, and isn't this the way they should always be treated?
From Lourdes we had a short flight to Paris. There we were able to visit the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal of Our Lady, stop in at the church of St. Vincent de Paul, visit Notre Dame Cathedral in all its grandeur, visit Saint Chapelle, the King of France's personal chapel and its wall-to-ceiling intricate stained glass.
Some of us on our second full day in Paris opted to take an optional side trip to Lisieux to visit the shrine of St. Thérèse.
(Father Lawrence D'Anjou is pastor at St. Raymond Penafort Parish in Dublin.)
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