The 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 examines some of the reasons why people come to the Basilica on pilgrimages, what makes pilgrimages unique as a spiritual practice, and his hope for the Basilica’s pilgrimage experience.
This post is Part I in a series.
Why do pilgrims visit the Basilica?
Many people are devoted to different saints or have recently recognized what it means to be committed to the gospel. Some want to know about the Blessed Mother under the different titles, and specifically want to come pray to her in a chapel under a certain title. Others may have an intention and are led here because they are praying for someone or something.
Some people may not have even heard of this place – believe it or not! – and they find out about it. Others are residents of Washington, D.C., and may have known about the Basilica for over 40 years until they decided to come visit!
People come here for different reasons and different purposes. Ultimately, I believe many people are brought here because they are attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit in their personal lives. My hope is that those who come here find support through the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, and share the pilgrimage experience with the numerous others who come here for that purpose.
What is unique about the pilgrimage as a spiritual practice/experience?
When you go on a pilgrimage – especially with other people – something holy happens. You become united with fellow pilgrims in a bond – even if you’ve never met them before! You are united because you are journeying together for the same purpose, and sharing the experience.
Sometimes people have traveled from far away, and sometimes they have traveled from close by. What’s important is their journey and how they got here. Even though all of them have a different story, ultimately we are all journeying for the same purpose – to get close to God, and to have an experience of the divine in the real world.
As difficult as the times are, God’s presence is more powerful than any evil. Sometimes the physicality of the pilgrimage is what is so powerful: pilgrims are here with other people who share their faith and are journeying for the same reason – and that gives them a bond, a unity, and the courage to persevere.
What do you hope those who come to the Basilica experience?
Ultimately, the reason that unites all of us is the witness of our faith – that is our hope for whoever visits the Basilica. We are visited by all sorts of people who may not believe in our faith, but they know one thing: that this is a place of faith. They can sense that it is a holy place, because they see people praying, worshipping, and celebrating the Eucharist in the many chapels and at the altars throughout the Basilica.
As beautiful as the Basilica is – with its marbled columns and intricate mosaics – what truly makes it so special is the presence of God’s people within it. During my time at the Basilica I have witnessed it myself day after day and that is truly what inspires me: the presence of God’s people in this church, serving as a witness of faith and devotion.
Reverend Monsignor Vito A. Buonanno is Director of Pilgrimages at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. View his full bio here.
Interested in experiencing a pilgrimage at the Basilica? Explore the various annual pilgrimages happening this autumn!