Often, when we think of pilgrimages we think of traveling to the Holy Land or heading to a location where a miracle happened – for example, pilgrimages to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. But a pilgrimage is actually any journey to a sacred place for religious reasons.
Recently, my church took a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. It’s not the first town that comes to mind when we think of pilgrimages within the Catholic faith, but there is actually quite a lot there to take in. We fit in three sacred sites during our pilgrimage, but I think each one is worthy of a full day, and I plan to go back and take in each one for a full day – especially the Franciscan Monastery.
Taking this Pilgrimage during Lent was especially beneficial because, as we are supposed to do during Lent, I developed a deeper understanding of my Faith and felt closer to God and my church community. I originally signed up for the trip because my mom suggested it to me, and it seemed like a great opportunity to explore new sites in DC and spend quality time with my siblings. But I left feeling renewed, inspired and deeply reflective of God’s call in my life – something I’ve been trying to focus on this Lent.
I signed up for the opportunity to explore DC while bonding with my siblings, and left feeling renewed, inspired and deeply reflective of God’s call in my life.
I’m aware that not all my readers are Catholic, so for those who need it, here is the definition of Lent: “the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, alms-giving, abstention, prayer and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays.”
Typically for Lent, Catholics try to give up something they love such as chocolate, desserts, etc. Last year, my sister gave up playing The Sims, she said it was super hard. This year my mom gave up nuts, and I’m feeling her pain because I know how much she loves peanuts, Brazil nuts, almonds and the whole nut family.
As for me, this year, rather than give something up, I decided to add something. Well two things. I decided I would read and reflect on the daily readings each morning and that I would work on my hustle with apostolic discipline (so I guess you could say I gave up procrastination). These were important to me because Lent isn’t a time to just challenge yourself for no reason, but rather grow closer to God, God’s purpose in your life, and a chance to let go of vices that are getting in the way of that journey. For me, it’s lukewarm faith and not living up to my potential.
From the posting date of this post alone, you can tell I have been STRUGGLING. For example, I meant to post this since Sunday, March 18th. Most days, I do get in the Bible readings – but not every day. I’ve been using The Word Among Us that they handed out for free at church and I like the meditations that correspond with each day. But the not procrastinating has been a STRUGGLE. And seriously I’m so slick, because I can keep myself busy on other tasks or convince myself I need to spend time with my sister, etc. It’s still something I’m working on daily and some days are better than others.
Overall though, the pilgrimage was a great way to refocus on the importance of Lent. It’s not just the ability to tick off “yes” I was able to give up xyz, it’s also the willingness to do it and to try again each time you fall. Everything else, you just have to give up to God.
And if that’s not your thing, the pilgrimage was also just a really great way to see places in DC that aren’t usually on the regular tourist paths, but are super awesome nonetheless. So without further aidoo, here are the places we visited:
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
The Shrine is a “place of worship, religious formation, and cultural renewal” that houses a “first-class relic of St. John Paul II.” It includes a “major permanent exhibit [that] highlights significant events in the life of Pope John Paul II and his momentous influence as the spiritual father of one billion Catholics and as a world leader.”
Seeing his story in that exhibit was the highlight of the experience for me, as it was a way to see how one man followed his calling and changed the world – in such a humble and dedicated way. We also got a tour of the beautiful chapel and ate lunch here before jetting to our next destination.
Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land In America
The Franciscan Order (an specific order of priests, friars, religious etc.), has been entrusted with guardianship of the Holy Land and other shrines of the Christian religion. Despite the declining Christian population in the Holy Land (the Middle East) due to conflict, Franciscans still stay there to preserve holy places, care for children, families, refugees and others in need, and keep Christianity alive in Jesus’ place of birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. In the U.S. the Franciscan Monastery has full size-replicas of shrines in the Holy Land and a beautiful garden for strolling and contemplation.
We arrived for our tour a bit late (we spent a lot of time at the Shrine, I’m telling you, each place can have its own day), but we still got a pretty good overview of their mission and a tour of the church, catacombs and various shrines. I really want to go back when the weather is nice and the roses are in full bloom. I’ve heard that their garden is breathtaking.
Trinity Dome at America’s Catholic Church
The Trinity Dome sits atop The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It’s the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and among the 10 largest churches in the world. The basilica is “home to over 80 chapels and oratories that honor the Mother of God and represent the peoples, cultures, and traditions that are the fabric of the Catholic faith and mosaic of our nation.” The Trinity Dome that crowns the basilica is still being tiled, but they hope to finish the mosaic before the 100th anniversary of the church in 2020.
We got to our tour hear super late and our wonderful tour guide gave us a super abbreviated version and talked to us about the domes (there are actually a few domes inside the main church, but the Trinity Dome is the one that is visible from the outside). Immediately after, our priest held Mass for us at the Immaculate Heart of Mary chapel and we got to look around a little bit before returning back home. I’m sure we didn’t even see 1/5 of the basilica. It was HUGE in there.
Like I said, each stop is definitely worth it’s own full day – or maybe even 2 if you read every single thing written in museums and exhibits like I do. Have you been to any of these locations or are interested in them?
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Also, do you observe Lent? If so, what did you give up? And definitely feel free to drop any questions you may have below!