On Fatima pilgrimage, souls 'uplifted and strengthened'
A pilgrimage is a time set apart from what is familiar. It is a time of prayer, of penance, and of experiencing the surprises of Divine Providence. Most of all, it is a grace-filled encounter that changes and transforms one's life.
As 39 pilgrims arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, this past July, we brought various personal intentions, burdens, thanksgivings and joys to leave in Fatima. We went with expectations, hopes and dreams. Whatever those desires or expectations were, we all came back strengthened because we had an encounter, both communally and individually, with a Mother's heart.
As pilgrim Jim Beckert pointed out, "I believe I came here because Mary again kindly invited me, but as I look at the people here, we've all been invited and the reason for the invitation is to become more deeply aware of the power of prayer and to pray from our hearts."
Such an invitation from the Blessed Mother came in both direct and indirect ways to the participants of the Fatima Peace Pilgrimage 2012, led by the Te Deum Foundation. For six seminarians, our Lady's call came through the invitation of the foundation itself, whose mission includes taking seminarians to Fatima each year. Such a mission is made possible by the generosity of those who support the foundation.
Billie Mobley, president of the Te Deum Foundation, explained, "This is our way of encouraging seminarians during their 'pilgrimage to the priesthood.' Presenting them to Our Lady gives them the opportunity to receive her special embrace and to grow in prayer, which is the foundation of a vocation."
For Zachary Wehr, a seminarian in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, this was his first time to Fatima and to another country. Both the holy sites and the Portuguese culture made a lasting impact on him. He shared, "Experiencing our Lady's messages and seeing people here from all over the world gave me a sense of peace and hope as a seminarian discerning a vocation. . . I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the different foods, the music, the way of life here in Portugal. All that has given me a very different perspective of living as an American. It has opened my eyes to the need to slow down."
For Zachary Moren, also a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it was an opportunity to deepen his prayer life. "I found more tools to use in my Holy Hour for prayer to draw nearer to Christ. I found greater importance and need to pray for souls and those who don't have anyone to pray for them."
While most of the attention throughout the pilgrimage focused on Fatima, the foundation also arranged a few side trips to other treasured and inspiring places of the Church's heritage. This year included a two-day stay in Santiago, Spain, to visit the tomb of St. James the Apostle.
For a seminarian responding to the voice of Christ and leaving everything behind so as to labor in the vineyard for souls, it is a profound experience. Brian Becker, studying for the Diocese of Charlotte, said, "It's been heartening for my vocation – going to see the tomb of an apostle, someone to whom Jesus said, 'Come, follow Me.' ... Formation for the priesthood doesn't just happen at seminary. It's all the experiences that we have preparing us for priesthood."
The foundation makes sure that the seminarians have many of these formative experiences throughout the pilgrimage. During the rosary processions at the Fatima Shrine, the young men had the opportunity to carry the statue of our Lady or to lead a decade of the rosary. They were able to serve Mass at many sacred places, including the tombs of the three Fatima visionaries, the Cathedral in Santiago, and the Church of St. Anthony in Lisbon.
The homilies that Father John Putnam from Salisbury and Father Christopher Roux from Charlotte, chaplains for the annual pilgrimage, delivered often specific challenges to the seminarians to whole-heartedly live out their vocations, to be ready to give everything for the Church and the sake of the Gospel.
But it isn't just the experiences of places and holy things that nurture a deep spiritual foundation in these young men who are generously discerning their call for the sake of the faithful. In fact, it is the support and interaction of the faithful themselves that influences, encourages and builds up our seminarians.
The Te Deum Foundation recognizes the great importance of this pilgrimage for the laity as well.
Mobley pointed out, "This experience for the lay pilgrims encourages them to learn more about vocations and how they can become part of the journey of these men in prayer and support. As the Holy Father continues to remind us, we all have a part to play in the growth of vocations."
Cindy Brown made her first pilgrimage to Fatima this year and concluded, "For me it has deepened my relationship with the Blessed Mother. I feel my soul has been uplifted and strengthened. I feel a sense of clarity as to the call of God in my life – a sense of clarity of a mission that I've been discerning for a while and how to serve the Church in a new way."
Sister Marie Thérèse, PCPA, felt both strengthened in her own vocation as well as challenged to live it out ever more deeply.
"It was beautiful to see the seminarians' growth in faith through the pilgrimage and how the special moments made an impact on them. Being with them on pilgrimage reminded me ever more of the need to pray for them, and seeing their love for the Church filled me with greater zeal in living out my vocation of spiritual motherhood," she joyfully said upon returning home.
Love for souls and love for the Church is the motivating force behind the work of the Te Deum Foundation, and taking pilgrims – seminarians and laity – to Fatima fosters this love through that precious encounter with the Blessed Mother's presence.
At the end of the 2012 pilgrimage, seminarian Peter Ascik expressed to the dining room full of fellow pilgrims, "The thing that I want to say to everyone who supported us is that we love the Church and we're going to take care of her – whatever happens – and that is what we offer in return."
For more information about the Te Deum Foundation, go online to www.tedeumfoundation.org or call 336-765-1815.
— Sister Mary Raphael of the Divine Physician, PCPA, special to the Catholic News Herald
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy