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Pilgrims have encounters of a Marian kind in France
The many places and graces of 'Notre Dame'
PARIS — For Catholics, France can be an oasis of beauty – from art to architecture – which is steeped in Church history. And for those who have a devotion to the Blessed Mother, it's the perfect place to have an encounter of the Marian kind.
All you have to do is say the words "Our Lady" to one of the pilgrims from the Diocese of Charlotte and immediately you'll get a knowing smile and a story of the graces she has helped bring about in their lives.
This mutual affection between the Blessed Mother and the pilgrims was tangible throughout the day as they made their way around Paris – first to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and then to Notre Dame Cathedral.
Joy, awe, love – it was all expressed in their faces the minute they crossed the threshold of both Marian sites.
The day began with Mass celebrated by Father Timothy Reid in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on the Rue de Bac (pictured above), the site where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Laboure.
"It's always great to be in places dedicated to Our Lady," Father Reid said. "It's particularly good to go to a place where Our Lady appeared herself. To be in one of her apparition sites is an amazing thing. I had been there once before. It's perhaps my favorite place in all of Paris. You can feel Our Lady's presence there. It's a place of great devotion. Whenever you walk in there is always someone praying there so devotedly... The graces that Our Lady desires to give us are so readily available there."
For Celeste Richards, who is a Carmelite and has had a devotion to Our Lady since childhood, time spent here had a very personal and deep meaning.
"I went to confession. It was just beautiful," Richards said. "I asked Our Lady for a special grace... and the priest said something in his broken English that really touched my heart... The chapel was beautiful. I felt like Our Lady was still present... I felt her presence. She's been my mother all my life and she is the one who got me to this state in life. I feel grateful that she has brought me to the places where she appeared.
Jim Beckert, whose grandsons served Mass for Father Timothy Reid, also has a very special devotion to the Blessed Mother. He is a retired widow who spends hours in prayer, interceding for the needs of others. He meets weekly with other prayer warriors at St. Ann Church in Charlotte.
"I asked Our Lady to speak to me while I was in prayer (in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal). The comment I heard was, 'Now you understand how powerful prayer is and why you need to do it daily.'"
Another pilgrim who has a deep love for the Blessed Mother and prays the rosary daily is Carolyn Franks. She and her husband Ken are making this pilgrimage together, leaving their three young children in the care of her parents while they are out of the country.
"That was my ultimate favorite place we have gone thus far - absolutely incredible. I asked Mary for a favor and I saw the fruit immediately after! I bought a rosary and prayed using it there, so I'll have that forever...You could feel the holiness of the church, the presence of the saints... I just sat there soaking it all in."
"Graces flowing, abundant, an answer to prayer!" said Teresa Sanctis of her experiences during Mass and prayer at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
Ruben Tamayo – who runs the high school youth ministry at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Charlotte and is in formation in the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Charlotte – was pleasantly surprised both by the variety of pilgrims from around the world who flocked to the chapel and the overwhelming beauty of the chapel itself.
"I had no idea what to expect and it was awesome," Tamayo said. "It exceeded anything I would have expected... The artwork was stunning...It was the message it conveyed... If you looked through the crown above the Blessed Mother's head you could see the Two Hearts...incredible!"
St. Matthew parishioner Terry DeMao was also struck by the beauty of the chapel.
"I loved the painting of Our Lady with the rays coming out of her hands," DeMao said. "I'm definitely going back on our last day in Paris."
The pilgrims have one more full day in Paris before they leave for Lisieux and Mont-St.-Michel.
"My hope is that all of the pilgrims will take advantage of the graces that are available to us in these places," Father Reid said.
"One of the messages of Our Lady's apparition to Catherine Laboure is that people forget to ask for graces. I think that is one of the sadnesses of a life of faith that we would ever forget to ask Our Lord or His mother for graces that are available to us.
Rue de Bac is a reminder that Our Lady will go to any lengths, Our Lord will go to any lengths, to give us the graces that we need to live a life of true holiness and virtue that they will give us anything if it is in accord with God's will."
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer
Join in the Journey in Faith: A Marian Pilgrimage to France
Come along with us on this virtual pilgrimage to France as we journey "to Jesus through Mary."
See more photos, learn about the people and places of the Church in France and the devotions they inspired and see the journey through the pilgrims' eyes: http://triptofrance.tumblr.com/
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