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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 on December 12 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 event..here a man brings his young child to the Basilica.
The Feast Day is a family event..here 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.

There is more to the Shrine than just the Basilica that contains the miraculous Tilma of Juan Diego, although that is certainly the high point.  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.

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 embrace.  The colorful dancers add a festive atmosphere to the Celebration of the feast day.

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 now stairs to make the climb relatively easy (remember you are at a high altitude, so go easy if you have breathing problems).

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

It might seem more like a carnival than a religious event….. because the Mexican people do not pigeon-hole their faith in to just one hour on Sundays.  It is a part of their daily life.

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 to the Shrine on that date, 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 TV networks (don’t even need to speak Spanish to enjoy the celebration)  or perhaps one of the Catholic TV networks such as EWTN.

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Do you know the tradition of the “Christmas Nail”?

One of the best things about Advent and Christmas is discovering the many varied traditions that families have passed down through the generations.  When you travel….whether locally or abroad….you will often find traditions that have endured for centuries.

SAtory of the Christmas NailOne of these traditions is the “Christmas nail”.   Supposedly resembling the nails used to attach Jesus to the cross, it is a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas….that the birth of Christ was subsequently followed by His crucifixion and then His resurrection.

It is fitting that the nail is placed on a tree….since He was crucified by hanging Him on a tree.

Many families put the Christmas nail near the center of the tree, to remind them that Christ should be at the center of their lives.  It is a great way to bring Christ back in to Christmas.

Get one for your family and start a new tradition.

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Rosa Mystica shrine gets official status

It has been announced that the Shrine of Our Lady of Montichiari in Italy will be named a Diocesan Shrine on December 7, 2019.  Montichari is the site of the reported apparitions of the Blessed Mother from 1947 through 1966, appearing as Our Lady of Rosa Mystica.

Originally opposed by the local Bishop,  the shrine nevertheless drew thousands of pilgrims….and many healings have been reported.

The current Bishop of Brescia will be dedicating Rosa Mystica-Mother of the Church Diocesan Shrine, on December 7, 2019.

You can read all about the apparitions and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Mystical Rose here.

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Did you watch “The Chaperone” on PBS?

Shown primarily in the U.S., this P.B.S. show deals with a young girl..and her adult chaperone…traveling from Wichita, Kansas to New York City.  It has a dual plot….it turns out that the chaperone was an orphan raised in a Catholic orphanage in New York, and wants to find out who her birth mother was.  Reverend Mother dissuaded her…..but we won’t spoil the rest of the story for you.

The fact that the chaperone was an orphan in a Catholic orphanage immediately caught our interest….but we often fear the worst, as the media these days does not always reflect Catholic institutions in a positive light.  This was not the case here, though.

The show briefly touched on the fact that the chaperone was sent off by train to live with a family across the country at a young age….but few details were given.  That is understandable, since that was not central to the plot.

But you might be interested to know about the “Orphan Trains” and their connection with the New York Foundling Hospital, run by the Sisters of Charity.  These sisters helped re-locate thousands of orphans and abandoned children to Catholic families throughout the U.S. in the late 1800’s.

You can read more about the “Orphan Trains” here.

 

Spoiler alert!  Reverend Mother was right in the advice that she gave to the chaperone!

 

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Walking the Camino on New Knees

It is always wonderful to hear stories like this from group leaders and pilgrims when traveling with Select International Tours.

Michelle and Gus Lloyd walked the Camino de Santiago with a group of 26 pilgrims in August of 2019. If you have any doubt how much a pilgrimage like this can impact a person, we invite you to read Michelle’s letter to her Doctor:

September 5, 2019

Dear Dr. Lyons,

Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. I just wanted to reach out to you to share a recent adventure I was part of. First, a little back story. Last August, my husband, Gus was able to begin a bucket list trip with about 25 other people of walking the first half of the Camino de Santiago, a 480 mile walk that has many routes to get to the final destination of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Not sure if you are familiar with it, but about 10 years ago the movie “The Way” came out about it and there are many others as well, but if you are at all curious, I would recommend watching “I’ll Push You” as it is a very inspirational story of two friends who do the Camino together and one of them is a quadriplegic.

In 2013, I came to see you and scheduled my first total knee replacement but I ended up cancelling the surgery because we decided to move and I didn’t have time to deal with it then. Funny fact, the night before that surgery was supposed to take place, I saw you at Lowe’s in Carrollwood in the carpet department. Eventually, my pain got so bad that I didn’t want to get up off the couch to do anything because it hurt so badly with each step I took, so I decided to look into stem cells procedures after a friend of mine shared a Facebook ad with me. I felt like I really got my confirmation to go forward with that at church the Sunday before I began the procedures when I heard this scripture from Hebrews 12: 12-13 for the first time that said. “So strengthen your drooping hands and week knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed, but HEALED”.

Sounds like a confirmation, right?? So I did the procedures twice on both knees but I never found the relief that I need to have an active life. So my husband started hounding me and asking our friend who lives in Kansas that is also an Orthopedic Surgeon to talk to me to try and convince me to just go ahead and bite the bullet and do the surgery. Honestly, my husband was ticking me off but I know now that he just couldn’t stand seeing the person he loved be in so much pain anymore and just wanted to try to help me find the answer I needed to get my life back So, unbeknownst to him, I had made an appointment to see you and scheduled my first total knee replacement with you about ? weeks before Gus left for Spain last year. I was obviously not able to go with him.

You did my second total knee replacement in December of 2018 and I was 8 months out from that surgery when it was time for Gus and his group to go back to Spain to finish the walk this year. I decided that I wanted to go, not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, (in hindsight, that was probably better). Now, I have always been a person who would work out to videos to keep in shape but I was never a hiker or runner.

Gus & Michell Lloyd walking the Camino de Santiago de CompostelaThis year’s journey began in Leon, Spain and ended in Santiago. We walked 8 stages to complete the mileage needed to finish the walk (an average of 15 miles per day). The terrain was very difficult, especially the first two days, filled with many mountain climbs and many boulder-filled paths going down for miles. I believe at the end of the 2nd day the grade of going up the mountain was 23 %. Can you say, out of breath?

Each day proved to be a very strenuous walk where I felt it in some part of my body, if not everywhere, but I have to tell you, MY KNEES FELT GREAT THE WHOLE TIME! I guess, maybe because I actually had the youngest knees on the trip! If I had any issues, it was with my feet which is to be expected walking 15-17 miles per day but I also have Morton’s Neuroma in my right foot to deal with. As I began each day, I knew we were going to walk, but I didn’t know what journey would unfold before me that day until I actually experienced it, but the one thing that resonated with me throughout the whole trip was a sense of THANKFULNESS.

THANKFULNESS for the beautiful vistas I was able to see and walk through each day, THANKFULNESS for the people I was able to share this experience with,

THANKFULNESS that I have a husband that has an adventurous spirit that he has shared with me, THANKFULNESS for the feeling that I actually feel like an athlete now,

THANKFULNESS for all that I was able to accomplish each day,

THANKFULNESS for being hounded by my huband to get the surgeries, ( I told him that I really got the sense as I walked that me not wanting to be cut open again made me realize that I was kind of like an alcoholic, in that, I had to hit rock bottom with my pain in order for me to bite the bullet and have the surgery done not only once but twice),

THANKFULNESS for God answering my prayer through the scripture He gave me, even though it wasn’t through the stem cell healing that I wanted, but most of all,

THANKFULNESS that I had a doctor that was the first one in his family to get a college degree and that I was blessed to have YOU and your knowledge and skill to perform my surgeries and GIVE ME MY LIFE BACK! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for following the call on your life Dr. Lyons!

We are all capable of doing so much more than we ever think possible and I’m so glad to say that I would never have known this without your help in my life! I am forever grateful! Know that you are changing the lives of your patients.

May God continue to bless you abundantly!

Michelle Lloyd

You can read more about Michelle’s husband Gus & his ministry here.

You can find out about the many tours (and cruises) offered by Select International here.

 

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New movie about Saint Faustina: Love and Mercy

In 1931, Jesus appeared to Faustina Kowalska as the King of Mercy. Clothed in a white robe and emanating two large rays from his side, one white and one red, He asked Faustina to paint this image of Himself along with the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in You” and to spread the message of mercy around the world. He promised that anyone who venerated this image would not perish. The gripping new docudrama LOVE AND MERCY presents unknown facts and recently disclosed documents that shed new light on the vision of Faustina.

Aided by scientific analysis, the film reveals how the Divine Mercy image and the Shroud of Turin were compared to one another to stunning conclusions. Dramatically recreated scenes between Saint Faustina and her confessor Father Michał Sopoćko traces the story of the origins of the image and how the devotion to Divine Mercy was born and spread throughout the world despite a ban of the devotion by the Catholic Church.

Shot in the U.S., Poland and Lithuania, the film is a compelling hybrid of dramatization and documentary-style storytelling that will leave viewers in awe of this spectacular account of divine friendship.

This great movie will appear in theaters in the U.S. beginning October 28, 2019.

You can find tickets and showtimes here at Fathom Events.

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Oh please be careful…it’s so dangerous in the Holy Land

Anticipation

Oh, please be careful. It’s so dangerous over there.”

I knew my friend meant well, but her words were not comforting. I was only a few days away from departing for the Holy Land and my nerves were already raw from packing, checking flights, reading weather reports, finding someone to care for my cat, and scheduling a ride to the airport.

I had dreamed about visiting the places where Jesus walked since High School. That dream was jaded by year upon year of news reports featuring skirmishes and wars in and around Israel. The picture the media had painted was unnerving. I wanted to be excited, but in all honesty, I was a little scared and my friend’s words were not helping.

A family-member drove me to the airport, warning me on the way to, “please be careful.” Was I making a mistake? Was I putting myself in harm’s way? I am normally very excited to get on a plane, but all these warnings made me very anxious.

I flew through Toronto on my way to Tel Aviv. The first flight was uneventful, and I arrived with plenty of time to make my connection. I found my next gate on the monitor and headed there to wait for boarding. When I arrived, there was an additional security checkpoint…only for our gate. I had never experienced this before. I waited in the line and reached the guard who examined my passport and boarding pass and asked me a few questions. He directed me to yet another bag check.

My mind raced: Why is there so much security? Is there a threat? Is something wrong? Should I walk away from this flight? The questions echoed in my head as I eyed every passenger waiting for the flight. With each reverberation, I heard the words of my loved ones, “Please, be careful.” It was only through the grace of Our Lord that I boarded that flight. My mind was working overtime to convince my body to abandon it.
 

The Truth

If you have never traveled to Israel, I imagine you are facing the same fears that I did. I imagine that the news, friends, and family are warning you to, “please be safe,” as well. Most of all, I imagine that you are asking the same question that I did: “Is this trip even worth the risk?

Let me put your mind at ease. Yes, it is worth the risk. And, perhaps more importantly, the “risk” is unjustly amplified. I have never traveled anywhere in the world where I felt safer than the Holy Land. Now that I have traveled there and back, I would return in a heartbeat! But I did learn a lot along the way that might help you feel a little more prepared for your trip.

Additional Security
I learned that additional security is normal for Israel. In fact, the security in place while boarding a flight is only the beginning. There are special restrictions to stay in your seats while in Israeli air-space. There are multiple security stops in the immigration and customs line. And, while traveling through the country, there are random security checkpoints on roads and at Palestinian Territory borders.

It was initially unnerving to answer questions of a security officer dressed in military fatigues and holding a weapon, but, in my experience, they were always pleasant and calm. They asked simple questions, checked my passport, then sent me on my way.

Crime and Common Precautions
Crime rates, in most cases, are significantly lower in Israel than the USA*. Violent crime is significantly less common. Still, this doesn’t mean you should be naïve. Petty theft from pickpockets and burglaries at tourist hotels still happen. So, take the same precautions you would take when traveling to any major city: use the hotel safe, carry a secure backpack or purse, and keep all your belongings on you.

When you stop to rest, eat, or sightsee, keep your belongings attached to your person or on your lap. Don’t leave your bag on the ground or hanging on your chair. Additionally, ALWAYS carry your passport and leave a photocopy in the hotel safe.

Mentally Prepare
The political complexity of the Middle East requires additional patience from travelers. Mentally prepare yourself and expect to wait in security lines, answer questions about your travels, and show your passport. Pay attention to your guides’ instructions. They are familiar with the checkpoints and security requirements and their insight can significantly reduce the inconvenience. Security personnel are simply doing their job to keep everyone safe. A warm smile and friendly demeanor on your end will often be met with the same from them.

 
Upon Departure from Israel
Departing Israel from the airport is far different from most places in the world. There are multiple security checkpoints and it can take much longer than usual to get from the curb to your gate, so be patient and allow yourself plenty of time.

On my most recent trip, we were stopped in the car—before entering the airport—for twenty minutes. They checked my bag, asked me and the driver several questions, and checked my passport and flight documents. When entering the airport, I had to go through two security checkpoints before entering the bag check. At the second checkpoint, they asked me several questions then instructed me to one of four bag-check lines.

In Israel, they profile every traveler and send them to a specific line depending on their “reading” of the individual. Don’t let this frustrate you. It is just part of the trip. While standing in the bag-check line, you will be asked the same questions you were already asked several times. Again, a warm smile and friendly demeanor will serve you well. They will check your bag thoroughly…meaning they may remove every item and inspect it, x-ray it, chemically test it, or even ask you questions about it. The process takes significantly longer than a TSA check in the USA, so exercise patience.

On my most recent trip, I arrived at the airport 3 hours and fifteen minutes before my flight. After all the security checkpoints and bag-check, I arrived at my gate, ready to board, with forty minutes to spare. The whole process took two hours and thirty-five minutes.

After a long flight, I walked to the Immigration officer at Newark International Airport. She glanced at my passport and asked how long I had been in Israel. “Seven days,” I replied.

“Wow. Short trip. Welcome home.” She waved me through.

I found my friend waiting for me outside the bag check. “Well, how was it?” She asked.

Great. Israel is nothing like I expected. I can’t wait to go back.” I said.

Really?

Yes, really. My trip was short, but life-changing. There really is no way to translate all that happened to me in the Holy Land. I know that I’ll never be the same after the trip. I can see the whole story of our faith so differently now. And when friends ask me if Israel was frightening to visit, I tell them, “It was, no big deal.” They think I’m an intrepid traveler, but really, I’m just being honest.

*According to nationmaster.com (accessed September 12, 2019)

Above article reprinted courtesy of Select International Tours, organizer of this tour and many others.  Be sure to check out their many offerings to the Holy Land and elsewhere.

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Send your prayer requests to the Holy Land

Maybe you can’t make it to the Holy Land right now, but would love to have some prayers offered for you in this special place.  Well you can…..by checking out Select International Tours….they offer the opportunity to submit your prayer requests online and they will be taken to the Holy Land by one of their departing groups each month and carried to all the Holy Sites in the Holy Land.

The group will pray for your requests at each site they visit and the spiritual Father of each group will offer your intentions at all Masses.

This is a really great way to get your prayers said at some of the most famous…and holy…sites in this special place.  That is, until you get to travel there yourself someday!

All requests are kept confidential.

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New additions…and some corrections….to The Catholic Travel Guide

Thank you to our readers!!

It is impossible for us to cover all the places of interest to Catholics….so we want to say a BIG THANK YOU to all our readers who help us out.

We have quite a few new pages that cover some places we did not know existed, so thanks to those who wrote in to tell us about them.

And one major correction….we always like those, because sometimes we are wrong…and other times things change and we need to update our information.

One major correction:

One church in Rome…the church of St. Alphonsus Ligouri…is noted for having the original painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help hanging over the altar.  We described the church as rather plain and un-inspiring….which it was, on our visit.  We thought it was such a shame that this famous image was hanging in a rather plain church.  But what we did not realize was that is was undergoing some restoration, and so with the scaffoliding and coverings over just about everything but the image, and we did not get to see what a beautiful church that it actually is.  Fortunately, one of our readers corrected us...and sent us photos as well.  We think you will agree that this is one of Rome’s most beautiful churches.

Here are just a few of the new locations that were recommended by our readers:

Columbus, Ohio:  Jubilee Museum; Shrine of Blessed Margaret of Castello

Fort Mitchell, Alabama: Blessed Trinity Shrine Retreat

Greenville, S.C. Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church

Pinner, London, U.K. SEC Youth Retreat Center for Young People

Waverly, Nebraska: Knights of the Holy Eucharist (founded by Mother Angelica)

Waverly, Nebraska:  Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House

 

Have any suggestons for The Catholic Travel Guide?

We thank all those who help with suggestions…and corrections!  Our goal is to help all Catholics with their travel plans whether near or far.  If you have any recommendations or suggestions for us, please email [email protected]

 

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Hopeless? Turn to Saint Philomena

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One of the most popular saints among Catholics is Saint Philomena, patroness of impossible causes.  As Saint John Vianney said: “To Saint Philomena God refuses nothing.”   Or as Pope Gregory XVI said:  “Whatever you ask from her, she will obtain for you”.

Her shrine in Italy at Mugnano de Cardinale, Avellino, is a short distance from Naples.  Churches around the world will honor her on her Feast Day August 11th.