By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Pilgrimages to holy shrines help us recall the journeys and work of our ancestors in planting seeds and helping the faith take root in our lives.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette is a holy place for those whose journeys are unique, yet similar. Unique are our ethnic customs and language. Similar is our focus on Jesus as Healer and Savior.
One of 13 pilgrimages at the shrine this year, the sixth annual Hispanic Pilgrimage with the theme “Love Is Our Mission — The Family Fully Alive” will be held August 1 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. All are welcome.
“The Hispanic pilgrimage is a great opportunity for families to come together for the day to get inspired, to celebrate Mass together and experience God’s love and healing,” said Silvio Cuellar, coordinator of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Providence, R.I. “In the past this annual event has been very well-attended with participants from the dioceses of Fall River, Worcester, Springfield, Boston, Providence, Norwich, Manchester and Portland. This will be a day for the whole family with workshops for adults, youth and children.”
Family and pilgrimages are very important to the Hispanic people, according to Sister Mary Jude Lazarus, S.C.M.C., director of the Hispanic Apostolate in the Diocese of Norwich, Conn.
“This event gives them an opportunity to do both — celebrate their faith as a family and in a Spirit of pilgrimage, sharing and faith enrichment,” she said. “It fills my heart with joy to see those buses roll in, the long Confession lines, families gathered together in prayer and at their picnic lunches. Just to be with them — especially those of my diocese — fills me with delight.”
Some 500 to 600 Hispanic pilgrims are expected this year.
“This event was initially the idea of Father John Sullivan, a priest at La Salette,” added Sister Lazarus. “So many of the other cultural groups do this kind of thing every year, and so he invited us to get on board — and it has been wonderful.”
Father Sullivan served as a missionary in South America from 1985 to 2003.
“Part of my reason for coming back is I felt we were getting more vocations,” he said. “The native Argentinians and Bolivians could serve their own people, and there was a real need for bilingual priests to speak in our parishes.”
After a year’s sabbatical, Father Sullivan arrived at the shrine in September 2004.
“This is a beautiful place, and there are so many possibilities for what you can do here,” he said. “I immediately started saying the Spanish Healing Mass on the first Sunday of the month, but I wanted to do more.”
He decided to reach out to parents at the Healing Mass and host retreats for families.
“I also wanted to start a Spanish Pilgrimage,” he said. “From that group we began to dream dreams of having it once a year, always with a theme of family. Last year we had it outdoors. There were so many people, we couldn’t have it inside; but it was quite comfortable out there.”
Father Sullivan said that Hispanic Catholics are a source of hope and new life for our Church in America.
“I’ve been to several parishes that would be closed in the Providence Diocese if not for the Spanish community,” he said. “In a way, I prefer saying Mass in Spanish more than English, speaking more from my heart and being engaged with the people. There is something attractive about the culture of South America — the focus on the family and their deep faith.”
Having just returned from Argentina, where he celebrated the 50th anniversary of the parish he served, Father Sullivan also credits native son Pope Francis with reinvigorating our faith.
“I love that guy. He is a gift to the global Church,” he said, citing the pontiff’s love for the poor, his humility, simplicity of style and way of relating to the people. “He is a man without fear of the opinion of others. That’s what we need so much.”
Recognizing the richness and diversity of the Hispanic culture here in our own country, Father Sullivan urges folks of Spanish heritage to go on pilgrimage.
“One reason to come is to experience that sense of fraternity and solidarity by meeting people from other cultures who are proud of their Hispanic roots,” he said. “It is also an opportunity to meet our new bishop, go to Confession, celebrate Mass, and pray the Rosary at a Marian shrine.”
The schedule for the day will include: 9 a.m. — Registration in the Welcome Center and Music for Praise and Worship; 9:30 a.m. — Workshops for different age groups (parents in the church, young adults in the Chapel of Reconciliation, youth in the Welcome Center and children in the cafeteria); 10:30 a.m. — Preparation for Mass; 11 a.m. — Mass with Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.; 12:30 p.m. — Lunch, Confession, Songs of Praise; 1:30 p.m. — Holy Rosary around the pond; 2:30 p.m. — General conference with Deacon Jorge Gonzalez of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., who will speak about why “Love Is Our Mission”; and 3:30 p.m. — Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette is located at 947 Park Street in Attleboro. Advance registration for the Hispanic Pilgrimage is a $3 donation per person; $5 at the door. Youngsters age 16 and under are free. Lunch costs $8 for a chicken and rice dinner with salad or $6 for pizza and a drink. For more information, email email@example.com or call 401-421-7833, extension 233.