by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The Marian pilgrimage organized by the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas was an extraordinary experience. We covered a lot of ground in 10 days, visiting four countries (Portugal, Spain, France and Italy).
We began our pilgrimage on Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Our group was so large (90 pilgrims) that we were on two different flights. The group that I accompanied had our connecting flight through Detroit. During our layover, we prayed the rosary together in the busy Detroit airport, entrusting our entire pilgrimage to the care of the Blessed Mother and asking her to draw each of us closer to her Son.
We first went to Fatima. Mike Scherschligt, the founder and director of Holy Family School of Faith, help to lead the pilgrimage. His doctoral studies were in Mariology, the role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation. He shared with us throughout the pilgrimage insights on the Marian apparitions, their messages and meaning.
In the square of Fatima, Mike gave an amazing catechesis on how the apparitions at Fatima in 1917 were tied into world events, particularly the communist revolution in Russia that occurred that same year. As you enter Fatima Square, there is a huge piece of the Berlin Wall on display. Also in the square is a large statue of St. John Paul II.
The assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II occurred on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima. When John Paul met with Mehmet Ali Agca in an Italian prison, his would- be-assassin wanted to know about Our Lady of Fatima. He was convinced that she had saved John Paul’s life and fearful that Mary would harm him.
John Paul II was convinced himself that while Ali Agca’s hand aimed the bullets and pulled the trigger, another hand (Mary’s) directed the path of the bullets to miss his vital organs. John Paul II placed one of the bullets recovered from the assassination attempt into the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
In accord with Mary’s request at Fatima, Pope John Paul II consecrated Russia and the entire world to Mary. St. John Paul played a critical role in the collapse of communism and the bloodless liberation of Eastern Europe.
One of our pilgrims, who had been deaf in her left ear for more than 20 years, was able to hear perfectly in both ears after entering Fatima Square. Throughout the pilgrimage, she continued to marvel at the gift of having her hearing restored. It seemed to me that this apparently miraculous cure was an invitation by Mary to all of us to open our hearts to listen carefully to what her Son wanted to speak to us during these days of pilgrimage.
From Fatima, we went to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where St. James the Greater, the brother of St. John the Evangelist, is buried. According to tradition, St. James — faithful to the commission Jesus gave to the Apostles to go and make disciples of all nations — traveled to Spain to preach the Gospel.
He was discouraged by his apparent lack of success. He experienced the first- ever Marian apparition, when Our Lady appeared to him standing on a pillar. She encouraged him to persevere, assuring him that his efforts would eventually bear fruit and the people of Spain would have faith in her Son as strong and as solid as the pillar upon which she stood. It was from this apparition that devotion developed to Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Pillar.
From Compostela, we made our way to Lourdes in France, the most visited of all the Marian shrines in the world. I had the privilege of celebrating an early morning Mass for all the English-speaking pilgrims at the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette. In 2008, the church observed the 150th anniversary of the apparitions to Bernadette at Lourdes. In preparation for the pilgrimage, I read a book entitled, “The Wonders of Lourdes: 150 Miraculous Stories of the Power of Prayer to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Our Lady’s Apparitions.”
It is inspiring and astounding to read of the remarkable healings and many other ways in which God has touched the lives of thousands of individuals at this place made special by Mary and the faith of a humble peasant girl. It is striking that both at Fatima and Lourdes, Mary chose to reveal herself to children.
It was the faith of these children, despite the opposition and disbelief initially of so many
adults, that would be the instrument of God’s grace changing so many lives. Yet, when you consider that Mary was only a teenager herself at the time the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her, announcing her special role in the redemption of the world, we should not be surprised that the Blessed Mother chose children to be her messengers.
We concluded our trip in Rome, where I had the privilege to meet Pope Francis for the first time. I expressed to him the prayerful support of the priests, religious and people of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas for his ministry as the successor of St. Peter.
We celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in the chapel that contains the image of Mary under the title of Salus Populi Romani, which means the Health of the Roman People or the Protector of the Roman People. Pope Francis visited this chapel the day after his election to ask Mary to bless his new ministry.
We carried the hundreds of petitions that people from the archdiocese asked us to bring to Fatima, Lourdes and Rome. I prayed every day for Mary to draw all of the people of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas closer to Jesus. Mary is the patroness of the archdiocese under her title of the Immaculate Conception.
In Fatima, all of us KCK pilgrims had the opportunity to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary. I invite all the people of the archdiocese to make the same consecration or, if you have done so previously, to make a re-consecration to Jesus through Mary on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.
The usual preparation for such a consecration is 33 days of special prayers. I recommend
that you prepare for the consecration beginning next Wed., Nov. 5, by using the meditations drawn from the writings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul found in Father Michael Gaitley’s book, “33 Days to Morning Glory.”
Together, we can make a 33-day spiritual pilgrimage that — similar to our physical pilgrimage to Fatima, Compostela, Lourdes and Rome — will be life-changing.
Together, let us ask Mary to open the ears of our heart to listen to what her son Jesus desires to speak to us during these 33 days.