Venture to a sacred site, and we respond on a soul level. How can we not change after a pilgrimage to Rome and delving into the lives of the apostles or to Bethlehem and visualize the birth of Jesus while striving to emotionally grasp its significance? Since ancient times, people have found that, if we allow it, setting our feet on holy ground alters every cell in our bodies, thought in our minds, and feeling in our hearts.
Devoting the time and expense to undertake a pilgrimage can be a life-changing event. This deliberate journey may increase our appreciation for a saint, Jesus’ love and sacrifice for humanity, our Holy Mother’s continuous intervention and efforts to bring us closer to her son and love one another, and of Scripture. It’s also an opportunity to ask for a healing or other important intent while deep in prayer.
One of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the United States is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Mary’s Shrine. This basilica is the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and one of the ten largest churches in the world. There we find more than 80 chapels and oratories honoring the Mother of God in representations of differing peoples, cultures, and traditions. Nearly one million visitors enter this basilica every year. Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Pope John Paul II, and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta have been some of those visitors.
There’s no denying that sites such as the Vatican, Lourdes, France, or even our national basilica top the list of dream pilgrimages. However, traveling such a distance is often cost prohibitive, may be physically impossible, or restricted due to unforeseen circumstances, such as during this COVID pandemic.
Rather than traveling across the world, or even across the country, we alternatively may undertake a meaningful pilgrimage closer to home. Like a “staycation” where we vacation in our local vacinity, we can participate in what I call a “stillgrimage,” where we pilgrimage close to home. We don’t have to go far. Nearby churches can have shrines that move us and hold the benefits of pilgrimage if we plan a visit there as such. The goal is to be still, pray, and listen wherever we go.
For example, through Google and suggestions on social media or from members of our church groups, we can discover statues, shrines, artwork, and churches in nearby locations that are very moving. Some of these places can be surprising as to how near and where they are. For example, Catholic cemeteries and art museums have countless inspirational works of art. We may even go on a weekday to our own parish church to honor its patron saint or perhaps, set up a shrine in our own home.
When planning to visit any site we choose, we can prepare by researching the meaning of the site. We then may strive to arrive there with a clean heart, mind, and soul in ways such as by acknowledging our sins, asking for forgiveness, asking a priest to hear our confession and receiving absolution, deciding on an intention, offering up a sacrifice, and asking others how we may present their prayers as well.
We also should arrive at the site dressed appropriately, turn off cell phones, and concentrate fully on prayer. When still and quiet, we open ourselves to surprising answers and divine direction.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to experience several pilgrimages. Each one was meaningful. Each one strengthened my faith in a different way. And each one resulted in the blessing of personal miracles.
One of the most meaningful shrines for me is The Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (spsmw.org) This holy site is nestled within the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College campus and the motherhouse for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Saint Mother Theodore, also know as Saint Theodora, is important to me because I received my Masters degree in Pastoral Theology from the school she founded, walked the ground she walked, attended her canonization in Rome, and wrote two books about her—Seven Principles of Sainthood Following Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and the children’s book, Saint Theodora and Her Promise to God. I have no doubt, if you went to this shrine, you too would be moved by our powerful saint.
Here is some information about a few other shrines located in the Midwest:
- Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, Basilica of; in Hubertus, Wisconsin
- Our Lady of Guadalupe, Shrine of; in LaCrosse, Wisconsin
- Our Lady of the Snows, National Shrine of; in Belleville, Illinois
- National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini; in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois
*Photos: Signage for Shrine of Our Lady of the Dells, Wisconsin; Shrine to Our Lady of the Dells; Banners of Newly Canonized Saints, Vatican, 2006; Attendees in Vatican City for Canonizations, 2006.
*Do you love hummingbirds as much as I do? See my post, “My Wee Bird Friends.”