Why do nearly one million people visit the Basilica each year?

The Basilica hosts nearly one million people from across the globe each year. Basilica Docent Tom Wong shares his insight into why so many people make the trip to Washington, D.C. to experience the Basilica, and why this means so much to him.

Pilgrims each day can be found lying prostrate before the monstrance, or kneeling before the images of the Mother of God from their homeland, praying silently, sometimes with tears in their eyes. These expressions of faith are raw and unfiltered, to be prayed over and over again in constant faith and surrender to God’s holy will. It never gets old and my own personal reflections have been touched by these emotive witnesses.

No matter how many times pilgrims ask me questions, or I lead a tour for a visiting group, or look around at the sacred art contributing to the Shrine’s devotions, I never get tired of taking it all in. Seeing the splendor of the Basilica, from the great Trinity Dome to the smallest details of the “Christ in Majesty” mosaic, from the awe of a packed Mass in the Upper Church to the most intimate sacred silence of an overnight Holy Hour in the Crypt Church, the Shrine breathes with life as “a hymn in stone” to enfold the faithful in the tender care of the Blessed Mother.

Some arrive just because it’s the tallest habitable structure in the District of Columbia and are drawn in by curiosity. Others see our ministry online or on TV and would like to make a pilgrimage of their own to be spiritually renewed and strengthened by their devotion(s) to the Mother of God. There is something in their hearts and minds which pilgrims faithfully bring before the Lord and His Mother at the Shrine: be it a need, a desire, a worry, a praise, a sorrow, a joy, a confusion, or a hope, nothing is too insignificant that it cannot be entrusted to the love of our God and our heavenly mother, Mary. I take to heart the words of Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who, during the 2017 dedication of the new Rosary Walk and Garden on the 97th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone, reflected on the purpose of the Basilica:

But as beautiful as this Shrine is, it will not last forever. But its sacred purpose does. May it stand in our midst as a sacred reminder for all who are searching for meaning in life. All who are struggling in pain. For all who are looking for an answer to the question, “What is it that you seek in life?” That they will find, in this Shrine, the Answer. And the Answer is Christ. May its beauty give hope to the confused. May they find consolation if their hearts are struggling. And may you and I visit often to be encouraged in our pursuit of holiness all the days of our lives. May it stand this day and for generations to come as a sign of hope that the world can find a way to peace, to happiness, and joy. And that road will always and forever lead to Jesus, the Lord, the Savior, and the Christ, Son of Mary and our Redeemer and King… Amen.


Take a Tour of the National Shrine

If you would like to tour the Shrine, we offer free guided tours that last just under one hour. The tours include visits to chapels on both levels, and information on the history of the Shrine, its architecture and ecclesiastical artwork. View the magnificent mosaics ornamenting the chapels and the domes in the Great Upper Church, as well as several majestic sculptures depicting Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother of God, and many saints.

2 Marian Devotions at the Basilica: The Immaculate Heart of Mary & The Miraculous Medal
The Five Domes of the Basilica and the Story They Tell