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Catholic Voice hosts group visiting religious sites in Portugal, Spain, France

According to the dictionary, a pilgrimage is a long journey to a sacred place. For the 47 people on the Catholic Voice pilgrimage to Fatima and Lourdes, the journey more than met that dictionary definition.

With Father Damian Zuerlein, pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, as our spiritual director, our group left Omaha Oct. 19 for an 11-day journey to religious places in three European countries, covering about 12,000 miles.

Our flight landed in Lisbon early on Oct 20, and we "hit the ground running" making our first stop at St. Jerome's Monastery, which had wonderful architecture and beautiful grounds.

While most consider St. Anthony of Padua an Italian saint, he was actually born in Lisbon, and we saw the baptismal font where he was baptized at what is now St. Anthony's Cathedral.

From there we went to visit the church of the Holy Miracle in Santarem, where we viewed the incorrupt relic of a consecrated host that turned to flesh and began to bleed when a woman attempted to steal it in the 13th century.

That was our last stop before a bus ride to Fatima, where we ended our first day in Portugal.

The next day - a full day focused on Fatima - began with a guided tour. As we walked around the town and visited the home of the shepherd children who saw Our Lady, I tried to imagine what they must have felt when Mary first appeared to them in 1917.

Jacinta and Francisco died as children, but Lucia became a Carmelite nun and lived until 2005. While all three were buried in different places within the town, they now all lie within the cathedral.

Fatima was very special to Pope John Paul II. He was shot on the anniversary of the first apparition and a year later he came to Fatima to thank Mary for saving his life. The bullet was given to Fatima and placed in a crown that is worn by the statue of Mary on special occasions.

Next, our travels took us to Santiago de Compostela where we saw the crypt of St. James, the patron saint of Spain. St. James lived and preached in Spain for a time before he returned to Jerusalem, where he was the first of the apostles to be martyred.

We were "bus" pilgrims, enjoying the comfort of a ride to this famous site. Along the way we saw and learned about the "walking" pilgrims, those who walked the way of St. James - anywhere from 60 miles to more than 500 miles, taking a few days to more than a month. To see some of these people finally arriving was truly inspiring.

Then, as we journeyed across northern Spain on our way to Lourdes, France, we stopped at Loyola and visited what was the home of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus.

One of the many highlights of the pilgrimage was having Father George Sullivan, a Jesuit priest from Creighton Prep and fellow pilgrim, celebrate Mass there. Listening to Father George was like hearing someone talk about his family history. We were all thankful that we could share the joy with him.

While I think peaceful describes Fatima, hope is the word I would use to describe Lourdes.

Many people arrive in Lourdes with an illness or some physical disability, often in wheelchairs and hospital beds. Many are there praying for a miracle. They are met by a staff of volunteers who offer kind and gentle hands to help. Many may not receive a miracle in a true sense, but I am sure healing takes place.

There is only one Mass celebrated each day in the grotto at Lourdes for each language. We were blessed that Father Damian was chosen to do the English Mass. I hope he felt special because I know the rest of us did as our own spiritual director said Mass from where Mary had appeared to Bernadette.

We also participated in the candlelight rosary at night. It was awe inspiring to see all the people with candles saying the rosary and sharing their faith.

After leaving Lourdes we traveled through the Pyrenees Mountains, which were filled with God's brilliant colors. We visited the family castle and birthplace of St. Francis Xavier, a close friend of St. Ignatius and one of the original members of the Society of Jesus.

Our long journey was about to end, but the dictionary definition of pilgrimage doesn't touch on the spiritual aspects or one other characteristic - the bonding of the group through shared faith. We might have left Omaha as strangers, but 11 days later, that wasn't the case. I heard many stories of what brought people on the journey. Every story was different, but the common thread was faith.

Had you made this pilgrimage, you would have experienced the faith and culture of three European countries and gone through two mountain ranges during the brilliance of fall colors. You would have celebrated birthdays with Jim Czyz, Manny Macapinlac, and Tami Miller, and the 37th wedding anniversary of Jim and Barb O'Brien. You also would have experienced the fun of Jim Czyz's napkin tricks, Nelson Torraca's impersonations, and Sue Clark's conversion story.

And you would have grown in faith and shared that faith experience with a group of new friends.

The Catholic Voice

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