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The Uniqueness of the Basilica as a Pilgrimage Destination

Reverend Monsignor Vito A. BuonannoThe Basilica is designated as a pilgrimage church by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. During the autumn months, pilgrimages to the Basilica originate from various dioceses and ethnic communities across the United States and provide opportunities for pilgrims to discover and deepen their faith through the different manifestations of Mary from all over the world. 

To help readers better understand pilgrimages and what makes the Basilica unique as a place of pilgrimage, Director of Pilgrimages Reverend Monsignor Vito A. Buonanno shares his insight. Today, he tells us what he believes makes the Basilica unique as a place of pilgrimage and what goes into preparing for a pilgrimage. 

This post is Part III in a series. View Part I and II.


What do you think makes the Basilica unique as a place of pilgrimage?

The first and foremost reason is its size – the Basilica is the largest church in North America and is one of the top ten largest churches in the world. But even as large as this place is, there is also an intimacy here because of the people of faith that are present. 

After serving as a parish priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn, I thought that kind of closeness would be impossible because I serve millions at the Basilica compared to the thousands I used to serve in Brooklyn. Yet God brings intimate moments and wonderful exchanges that can be personal because why? We’re a people of faith.

This place is organic. It’s alive, because of the people. People are interested and they’re attracted because of our faith and the workings of the Holy Spirit. Many people are looking for identity and how their faith can make their lives and the lives of the people around them better. 

Youths from The Holy Martyrs Catholic Church Arlington, VA., perform traditional music during an Asian pilgrimage at Washington basilica
Youth from The Holy Martyrs Catholic Church in Arlington, Virginia, perform traditional music during a pilgrimage to the Basilica

What have pilgrimages at the Basilica meant to you personally? What goes into preparing the Basilica for a pilgrimage?

What has really meant the most to me in our pilgrimages is the offering of service made by so many people to facilitate gatherings of such a grand scale. I don’t know that our pilgrimage visitors are aware of just how much work goes into making these events possible – from the work by clergy and staff, to the volunteers serving in various capacities. Unexpected things often happen when these vast numbers of people are gathered together, and many volunteers and staff here at the Shrine jump in and make sure that every need is met. In my years here, everyone involved in the work of the Basilica has exhibited phenomenal dedication.

And ultimately, the one who makes it all possible is God, who guides and directs our steps. We may plan our schedules as we like, but at the end of the day, God decides what will happen! We have only to be open to the will of the Holy Spirit. 

God’s provision throughout these unexpected events serves as a witness to the faith of God’s people. And my purpose is to be an instrument that enables people to experience our faith and our devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Reverend Monsignor Vito A. Buonanno is Director of Pilgrimages at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. View his full bio.

Schedule a Pilgrimage


Missionaries of Charity Surround Statue of Mother Teresa

Interested in experiencing a pilgrimage at the Basilica? Get in touch with our Pilgrimage Department today!

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