Nearly 3,000 diocesan pilgrims enliven National Shrine

By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer

Nearly 3,000 faithful and 40 priests from the Diocese of Allentown sought out plenary indulgences and meditated on being instruments of mercy Oct. 20 during the Allentown Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.

Msgr. John Chizmar, director of diocesan pilgrimages to the shrine, said 55 busloads of faithful from a majority of the diocesan parishes and elementary schools, along with students from each of the six diocesan high schools, engaged in the pilgrimage, “Celebrating Mary in the Year of Mercy,” led by Bishop of Allentown John Barres.

“I very much appreciate the cooperation of the pastors, principals, students, the faithful and my staff in making the pilgrimage a resounding success, both spiritually and in building up our community of faith,” he said.

Father William Byrne, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, Potomac, Maryland, was the guest speaker, who shared five ways the faithful can finish out the Jubilee Year of Mercy that will draw to a close Sunday, Nov. 20.

Father Byrne, along with 1,000 priests worldwide, was appointed a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis to preach and teach about God’s mercy during the jubilee year. The appointment commissioned him with special faculties to hear specific confessions – like breaking the seal of confession – which only the pontiff can absolve.

“I have received a ton of mercy in my life. And I want you and I to close out the Year of Mercy as strong as we can,” he said.

Father Byrne opened his talk by asking the faithful to become “splagchnizomai” (pronounced: splänkh-nē'-zo-mī), a Greek verb that appears several times in the Gospels and means “filled with love and compassion” or “moved with pity.”

“Many times throughout the Gospels Jesus was moved to sadness. He experienced splagchnizomai for people like we do for our families,” he said.

He told the faithful to amplify their corporal and spiritual works of mercy by helping the poor and making sure others know that they are loved.

“You and I need to not just feed their stomach. We need to feed their soul. This is our responsibility as Christians,” he said.

Father Byrne then mapped out ways to increase mercy in the world and urged the faithful to become teachers of the faith first.

“To be teachers we have to be students of the faith. We have to take chances and learn about the faith every chance we get. Google something about the faith every day,” he said.

He also emphasized feeding the poor and maintained caring for the poor is not an option.

“If we give a poor person a sandwich and don’t show them love – we have given them nothing,” said Father Byrne.

“We need to realize that being a Christian we take seriously caring for the poor. They are in the same category as air, water and food. It’s absolutely essential,” he said.

As Christians, Father Byrne said, faithful are called to be healers proclaiming “good gossip.”

“If we place a positive and a negative on a balancing scale – the negative will always weigh more. The way to be a spiritual healer is to be a messenger of positivity. We always hear bad gossip. Share ‘good gossip,’” he said.

To become a better instrument of mercy and to obtain the partial plenary indulgence, Father Byrne stressed that confession is a necessity.

“With each confession we get rid of junk and God restores you to the person you can be,” he said.

“To finish off the Year of Mercy, we need to get rid of grudges. As soon as you let go – tell God to take care of the rest. Your arms become free and you can hug others and live. Heaven is a grudge-free zone. You can’t be bringing your grudges in there. You can’t avoid each other in heaven. There is no division. Let yourself encounter God and get rid of grudges,” said Father Byrne.

With more laborers needed, Father Byrne pleaded with the faithful to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“I love being a priest. There hasn’t been one day that I haven’t loved being a priest. It’s a privilege to take people’s hands and walk them through the darkness,” he said.

“I pray that if you see a person who would make a good priest or sister – call them out on it. Don’t call them out in an obvious way – just let them know that you think they would make a good priest or sister,” said Father Byrne.

“I also hope you have found something of peace in Our Lady’s House. It has been a delight to be with you. You have enlivened all of us with your faith.”


Tours, plenary indulgence and Mass round out pilgrimage

The diocesan pilgrims also used the day to tour the basilica, the largest Roman Catholic Church in the United States and North America, which houses more than 70 chapels and oratories that relate to the people, cultures and traditions that are the fabric of the Catholic faith.

Most obtained a plenary indulgence set forth by Pope Francis, who made the indulgence widely available the during Jubilee Year of Mercy by decreeing the opening of a Holy Door in every cathedral around the world, as well as in particular shrines, such as the basilica.

A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day and can be received for personal benefit or offered up for a soul in purgatory. To obtain it, the faithful must be in a state of grace, have sacramentally confessed their sins, received the Holy Eucharist and offered prayers for the pontiff.

In addition, diocesan school students and the Diocesan Choir led the singing of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy in English. The chaplet was also recited in Spanish in the Crypt Church.

Bishop John Barres concluded the pilgrimage by celebrating Mass with diocesan priests and lauding the remarkable turnout of students and young people.

“It is so moving for us to look into the eyes of so many middle and high school students. You are living your faith so beautifully. We are so very proud of you,” he said.

He told the young people that they are being called to greatness and encouraged them to open themselves to Our Lady.

“We want you to be heroic Good Samaritans in the Catholic Church and the entire world,” said Bishop Barres.

He urged them to use their homes as an “intensive laboratory” to be present to their family members, to exercise the works of mercy and to light it with Christ’s love.

“I want you to really think about going the extra mile like Our Lady did. Young people, you are being called to a new level,” said Bishop Barres.

Aside from being called to mercy in their homes, he told the young people that they are being called to be extremely Eucharistic, ambassadors of the Gospel of life and to light social media with Christ’s love.

“The Gospel of life teaches us about the sanctity of human life, the importance of forgiveness, the importance of seeing Christ in the poor and seeing dignity in each and every human person,” said Bishop Barres.

As young people, he said they know firsthand how corrosive social media is as they navigate their faith.

“You are being called in the context of the Catholic faith to light the world of social media with the joys of the Gospels and truths of your Catholic faith. Are you with us?” asked Bishop Barres before young people and all the faithful responded with roaring applause.

He then asked all the faithful to pray and reach out to the poor, families carrying great crosses, and inactive Catholics.

“Let’s make this a time to step up and be instruments of mercy and bridges leading others back to the Mass,” said Bishop Barres.

“Thank you for being with me today. It is an honor to be your shepherd and I am so proud to serve you.”