Thousands flocking to Illinois Shrine

It is a shrine that was never really meant to be a shrine, according to Father Rev. Marco Mercado, rector of Maryville Academy.  This small shrine near Chicago draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims throughout the year..  It is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois, just about a 7-minute drive from Chicago’s bustling O’Hare Airport.

It was in 1988 that a traveling statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was brought back from Mexico City to the U.S.  After several failed attempts to find some church to accept it,  Maryville Academy offered to house the statue in a small chapel and from that a shrine was born.

Needless to say, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe are a highlight of the year.  Celebrations, along with native dancers, began on December 10th but the activities will really heat up starting on December 11th, with Masses beginning at 4:00 p.m. and being held every two hours through the night and following day until the final Mass and solemn procession at 7:00 p.m. on December 12th.

There is also television coverage on Univision, not only in the area, but in many cities throughout the U.S.

You can check their website here

Or learn more about the Shrine here.



Did you know of this plot to kill Pope John Paul II ?

Most of us are familiar with the Soviet-backed attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Square in May 1981.  But another plot, this time by radical Islamists, was hatched to remove him from the world stage some 14 years later….and it almost succeeded.

It originated in the Philippines and was financed by Osama Bin Laden…a name few were familiar with at the time.  The plan was to assassinate Pope John Paul II on his visit to the Philippines in February, 1995.   The plan involved not only assassinating Pope John Paul II but also placing bombs on 11 aircraft bound for the U.S.  Several bombs had been set off in the Philippines prior to this, as well as on a Philippines airliner in 1994, as part of a dry-run for the mission.

The undoing of the plot came about due to either Divine Intervention or good luck… can imagine which one we choose to believe.

A fire broke out in an apartment in Manila and once the fireman arrived and extinguished it, they found a bomb-making factory.  Further search of the apartment turned up a crucifix, Bibles, and cassocks.  It was clear that the terrorists were planning to disguise themselves as priests in order to get close enough to the Pope to assassinate him.  The apartments were located not far from the Embassy of the Holy See and one window looked out upon the route that the Papal motorcade was to follow.

We have to wonder what the world would have been like had the fire not broken out and the plot un-covered.  Would the attempt have succeeded?  What would have happened to our world had Divine Mercy not intervened 19 years ago?

As we gather in Rome this weekend, let us remember that it was Pope John Paul II who canonized Blessed Faustina Kowalska and proclaimed the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

You can read more about the “Bojinka Plot” in this Wikipedia article.  It is also mentioned as part of several books regarding terrorism that you will find on such as the one below:

Before 9/11: A Biography of World Trade Center Mastermind Ramzi Yousef


Cruises with a priest on board

We have mentioned the ocean cruise lines with a priest on board (most notably, Holland America, which has a Catholic priest on board all its cruises with daily Mass provided).  But there is a company offering a Catholic priest on certain river cruises…and even coastal cruises to New England and the Croatian coastline.

Read all about them here.

Attending Mass at Christmas while on a Cruise

Hard for some of us to believe, but with Advent about to begin, it is not long until Christmas.  If you plan a cruise for the period over-lapping Christmas you will surely want to attend Mass.  Depending upon the cruise line’s itinerary, you may be in port and be able to attend Mass at a local church.  Be sure to check out your port of call and see what time the ship will arrive and depart. You may not be able to attend a Mass if the ship sails away in the early evening.

Many river cruises include the chance to attend the local Christmas market and attend Mass
River cruises include the chance to attend attend Mass

In the case most river cruises in Europe you overnight in most cities and, attending Mass in one of the local churches or cathedrals is not only easy but would be a special treat.  The cruise line should be able to help you arrange transportation to and from the ship.

But for some ocean cruises that may be a sea day and you won’t have that opportunity.  So we recommend you consider a cruise line that will have a Catholic priest on board.  Only a couple of lines have a priest on every cruise, but several others have a priest on their Christmas cruises as well.

So check out our page on which cruise lines will have a priest on board at Christmas.



God Trekking and the Pilgrim Journey, by Denise Bossert

Post by Denise Bossert

Like Simeon and the Magi, the Church has always known the simple truth: we are on a quest to encounter the Lord. This truth turns Magi into pilgrims. It sends Simeon and Anna into the Temple. It turned St. Helena and St. Francis of Assisi into Holy Land trailblazers. The Church takes up the call to be a pilgrim people who go to the places where Mary and Jesus have been.

This faith quest goes back even further. To a man called from Ur of the Chaldeans. To Ruth who followed Naomi out of Moab. To the Israelites called back from exile. We see it as the page turns from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The Blessed Virgin Mary is inspired to visit Elizabeth and leave behind a disbelieving Nazareth. The Holy Family is directed to flee into Egypt, away from Herod’s rule and the murder of the Holy Innocents.

While it is part of Church tradition, and reaches back into the depths of salvation history, pilgrimage is not a strong part of the American Catholic schema. We go on retreats. We do parish missions. But pilgrimage is also necessary for the Catholic soul.

Bill Howard, former editor for The Colorado Catholic Herald, believes in making pilgrimages. “A pilgrimage reminds us how universal the Church is and challenges us to see the Lord working through different traditions and practices than our own. A pilgrimage gives you a much greater appreciation for the beautiful history and teachings of the Catholic Church.”

I met Bill Howard last May when we both traveled to the Holy Land with the Catholic Press Association as guests of the Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT). “I loved the Israel Ministry trip,” he says, which he describes as a fast-paced overview of the Holy Land and an intense media immersion surrounding the Holy Father’s visit. “One had to work to make private pilgrimage moments.” Bill encountered one of those sacred moments on the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is a favorite pilgrimage site. The faithful gaze at the shoreline where Christ walked. They look across the water and think of a night when another boat was so tossed about by storms that even seasoned fishermen were terrified. They replay the Lord’s words and remember how even the wind and the waves obeyed his command. Our Lord calls to them.

Bill Howard believes in pilgrimage, whether it is deliberately seeking out moments while on a trip to Uganda or to the Holy Land or while on a cross-country trek that includes a side visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Green Bay, Wisconsin. “There is a great purification in the journey to a sacred place.”

My second visit to the Holy Land was thoroughly a pilgrimage. We began our day with prayer and had daily Mass in places like the Basilica of the Annunciation (Nazareth) and the Church of the Visitation (Ein Kerem). One night in Bethlehem, we participated in a program called Sharing the Bread, in which pilgrims meet in the homes of Palestinian Christians. Thirty years ago, the Christian population in Bethlehem was ninety percent. Now, they make up just two percent of the population.  Why do they stay? They stay because this is the birthplace of their Lord Jesus. It is an inheritance on a spiritual level, and even if things are difficult, they will stay. And we will have holy sites to visit on pilgrimage because of their faithfulness.

Select International Tours and Cruises, a premier pilgrimage company, created the Select to Give Foundation. The shared-meal program is part of that foundation. The meal was the full expression of pilgrimage, which is about people, lodging, and culture, and how these things have a divine synergy. They expand our hearts and help us to see Christ beyond our parish, beyond our diocese, beyond our country.

Each year, a group from the Holy Land sells olive wood carvings at my parish. Even then, I never specifically thought about Palestinian Christians. To be honest, until the trip with the IMOT, I didn’t even realize Bethlehem was in Palestinian territory. In May, I met Palestinian Christians, and I found their stories to be compelling. They became real to me. I let them into my heart. Pilgrimages lead to conversion, to metanoia. A change of heart and mind. Now, I have faces with names, people with homes and stories that will remain with me always.

When I converted, nobody could keep me quiet about this gift of our Catholic faith. A similar thing has happened to me when it comes to pilgrimage. Some say that going on a pilgrimage is dangerous. And then they look at me strangely because I don’t strike them as the kind of person who courts danger. I’m not into extreme sports. I don’t have a death wish. I’m from their parish, their archdiocese, their state. They had me pegged as the reclusive writer.

I feel safe the entire time I’m on pilgrimage. Yes, even in the Holy Land, I felt safe every moment. We are a pilgrimage people. It is who we are. It is in our DNA. Just one pilgrimage makes a person remember that.

As Catholic journalists and bloggers, we need to be trailblazers like St. Helena and St. Francis of Assisi. We can open the doors on this aspect of Catholic life that is under-utilized in our culture.

As writers, we can introduce them to these amazing pilgrimage destinations. As photojournalists, we can capture the beauty and grandeur of the people and the places that Jesus and His Blessed Mother chose to visit.

Let’s remind the faithful that we are a pilgrimage people. And then, let’s lead the way. People who make one pilgrimage want to make another one and another one. I’m planning pilgrimages to Mexico and the Holy Land in 2015 and plan to join pilgrimages to Knock and Lourdes as soon as I am able to fit them into my schedule.

Denise Bossert:

Denise is a convert to the Catholic Church. She is the daughter of a Protestant minister. In 2005, she converted to Catholicism after reading books by Carmelite saints. Her syndicated column called Catholic by Grace has been published in 63 diocesan newspapers. She has also written for Catholic magazines and appeared on EWTN’s Journey Home and Women of Grace. She is a Catholic travel writer and pilgrimage leader with Select International Tours and Cruises. Her first book is entitled Gifts of the Visitation and explores the Blessed Mother’s journey from Nazareth to Ein Kerem where she remained with St. Elizabeth for three months prior to the birth of St. John the Baptist. Website:

Denise Bossert, Catholic columnist & author  Denise Bossert





The Need for travel guides when traveling to new places


When traveling to a new place, you want to be sure to get the most from your experience.  This is where a travel guide becomes essential. Travel guides are available in various options. Traditionally, travel guides were available as guidebooks. They may include information regarding geographical location of sights, accommodation, transportation, maps, restaurants and activities. There are different kinds of guidebooks available focusing on various aspects according to the visitor’s personal needs, for example, from relaxation to adventure travel, or focusing on travelers with different incomes, or types of diet. Some guides also include information about economy, currency or historical and culture knowledge.

The traditional Frommer's travel guide
The traditional Frommer’s travel guide

In recent times, it was revealed that Google purchased the venerable “Frommer’s” travel guides, and soon thereafter it was announced that the book form publication of travel guide would be discontinued. The purchase was undoubtedly aimed at gaining the large numbers of social media followers that Frommer’s had amassed over the years, because later the rights to the travel guides were sold back to Arthur Frommer and are now published once again.  In this modern era of digitalization, the main source of information is internet and sites such as

For starters, relying on websites alone is not enough…..and also time consuming. Therefore carrying a hand book is much easier comparatively then searching the internet for scattered information. It is therefore suggested that a traveler use a handbook and internet side by side.

A private tour guide is also another option for travel guidance, where a person provides assistance and information instead of a traveler having to use a book.

Benefits of a Local Travel Guide


Generally tour guides are recruited from within the local community. They have an excellent knowledge of the area’s history, traditions and culture, and offer up-to-date factual information while also answering any queries about the site/attraction. They make sure that the foreigner doesn’t feel out of place


It is very likely when travelling with a travel guide or tour guide, you can have access to things you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. For example, if you are traveling in Rome and desire to see the Vatican, you will have to wait for hours in a queue but with a guide you can save plenty of time. A local tour guide will also best understand the quickest ways to get around the area……just like you know how best to get around in your home town.

Local guides help tailor the experience to your requirements
Local guides help tailor the experience to your requirements

When thinking of tour guides a thought might pop up to one’s mind that a tour guide will offer standard tour packages. But what one might not know is that there are many private tour guides who will tailor the experience to include the sights and attraction according to your requirements instead of taking the standard tourist route. Hiring a private tour guide gives a traveler an individual experience adding a personalized touch while also avoiding the crowds. In addition, in most instances, the tour price includes discounted admission into the attractions as well as subway, bus, taxi and even boat fares – a fact that can counteract the cost of hiring a private travel guide to the budget traveler.

  1. Dealing with Problems

Travelers often have to deal with the problems of bureaucracy, such as obtaining permits for activities like fishing, climbing or camping. The language barrier is one of the biggest issues that can arise making this even more problematic. This is where a tour guide can be really helpful, as he can speak the language, has a better understanding of operation of local systems and is less likely to be cheated. The tour guide also can help to ensure that you are not conned by shopkeepers and taxi drivers, and acts as a deterrent to people who might otherwise hassle you, such as street vendors and beggars. Travelers might even have to think of visa problems, for example, the Dubai business visa has changed over the years and there is some confusion about how to go about applying for the visa. These problems can be overcome by Dubai Visa Services, as they simplify the procedure.


Professional tour guide are trained in first aid. They also have knowledge of weather conditions, terrain and aware of danger zones. These guides will help keep you safe when undertaking adventure activities such as mountain climbing, safari trips, scuba diving, trekking and whitewater rafting.



In developing countries like Egypt (and even some developed countries), many tour guides earn extra income through commission from other businesses, such as shops and restaurants. They might pursue the clients to purchase goods or services they do not really want. To avoid this it is also recommended to read a guidebook before the start of travel or access to the internet while you are on your tour.

  1. COST

Private tour guides can be expensive, particularly if yours is only a small group, as the cost usually is per day or trip, not per person. If you are traveling alone, it is more economical to purchase a good-quality guidebook and read as much information as possible about the site you are visiting beforehand.


In a nutshell, tour guides or travel guides can be really helpful while traveling to a new place, offering benefits and being cost effective. Keeping the above factors in mind, it is essential use internet, Smartphone, travel guide booklet and hiring a private tour guide side by side and not relying on any of these individually as each and every option has its own merits and demerits.


Editor’s note:  There are two things of which your should be aware when arranging for a local guide: 

1.  Be sure they are licensed, if that is a requirement.  For example, a tour guide in Rome who may be licensed for Italy, but not for the city of Rome, is can be shut down in the middle of your tour, and you will lose the tour and your money!

2.  It is important to find out if the guide is going to present things from a Catholic perspective.  For example, a visit to the Garden Tomb in Israel is interesting, but the Catholic Church recognizes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the actual burial place of Jesus.

Author Bio: Brenda Cagara


Brenda CagaraWhile Brenda Cagara got experience in setting up a business in Dubai with the top business consultants, she managed to flourish her writing career as well. In the past five years, she has emerged as a brilliant writer and writes on nearly every niche. Her office job expertise lies in business consultancy (Riz & Mona), visa processing, trade license, trade mark, local sponsoring, product registration and bank account opening. The reflection of her success in this field is often is witnessed in her writing pieces written on business, visa and finance.


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My loving tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe


I am a person who does not like crowds, so you would think that attending the Feast Day celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City would be something I would avoid at all costs.  After all, well over one million (some estimates say 5 million) people pack the shrine on the Feast Day.  And yet I have always relished the times that I have been blessed to attend.

Join me as I reminisce about my first visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. On the evening prior to the Feast Day, those of us in our tour group who were more adventuresome decided to taxi to the Basilica. Traditionally many famous Mexican singers, performers and high ranking politicians show up for the festivities that start around 10:00 p.m. This lovely tribute goes on deep into the night and the love songs (“Las Mananitas”) sung to Our Lady and the devotion the locals show for her is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  These are memories I’ll hold deep in my heart forever.

On the Feast Day itself (December 12th) we excitedly boarded our tour bus to take us to the Basilica.   But what a surprise was waiting for us!  Buses were restricted from getting too close to the shrine and we had to be dropped off quite a few blocks from there.  At this point we walked the rest of the way….something that turned out to be a blessing.  As usual, God’s plans are better than ours.

The Feast Day is a family a man brings his young child to the Basilica.
The Feast Day is a family a man brings his young child to the Basilica.

As we walked along with throngs of others all headed in the same direction, we experienced a real feeling of pilgrimage & unity with our fellow Catholics.  Those alongside us were mostly Mexican pilgrims, both individuals and whole families, carrying placards of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many had walked for miles, and sometimes for days, to get here.  We passed young people rousing themselves from sleep as they had camped out overnight.  These heartwarming images help you to appreciate how universal and vibrant our Catholic Faith is.

The colorful dancers add a festive atmosphere to the Celebration of the feast day.
Upon entering the grounds where the Basilica is located, we were presented with a kaleidoscope of sights.  We were greeted by descendants of those original Aztecs dancing in the ancient dress as would have been worn at the pagan festivals prior to the apparitions to Juan Diego.


The dancers reverently process in to the Basilica symbolizing the shift from the old pagan religion to the new religion of Christianity that they now so enthusiastically embraced.

There is more to the Shrine than just the Basilica holding the miraculous Tilma of Juan Diego.  I think many of us were surprised that the grounds encompass both the new and old Basilica (now leaning as if it will fall any moment).   You can also see the room where Saint Juan Diego lived out the rest of his life after the apparitions and his simple grave.

Mount Tepeyac overlooks the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mount Tepeyac overlooks the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

But what moved me the most was that in the midst of it all was the Monastery built atop the Hill of Tepeyac.  This is where Juan Diego first encountered Our Lady!  The climb is steep, but unlike the time of the apparitions, there are steps along the way.

Even the youngest get to join in the dances.
Even the youngest get to join in the dances.

The atmosphere of this feast day celebration is so joyful that it might give the appearance to some that it is more carnival than religious event…..because the Mexican people do not pigeon-hole their faith into just one hour on Sundays.

One of the native dancers
One of the native dancers outside the Basilica.

Faith, culture and daily life all come together in this magical land, and nowhere is that more evident than here on December 12th each year.  If you can’t make it, try to find some of the many festivals nearby celebrating this Patroness of the Americas.  Or maybe you can catch some of the action on one of the Spanish-language or Catholic TV networks.