I remember in 2017 when my parents came back from the Holy Land and were on fire with the Holy Spirit. All I remember hearing them say was how my siblings and I needed to go on a pilgrimage. At the time, I had no idea what that meant. I could not quite grasp the difference between a pilgrimage and a vacation. To me, it seemed like one in the same. Boy, was I wrong!
A couple of months ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to experience the journey of a pilgrim, but this time, it was with Our Blessed Mother, Mary. My parents had asked each of my siblings if we wanted to join them on the pilgrimage that was only six months away. I did not hesitate. I was not sure exactly what to expect, but I knew that God was calling me.
The First Stop: Fatima
When the day came, I was filled with such excitement. Not only did I not know what to expect, but I did not know anyone else on the pilgrimage other than my parents. I had met a few people during our preparation meetings, but it was nothing more than a ‘hello’ and a ‘nice to meet you’. What stuck out to me the most was that I would be the youngest pilgrim on this journey.
We landed in Lisbon, Portugal before traveling to Fatima. It had been a travel day of over 24 hours, and I was exhausted, but that all went away as we made our way to the plaza area where I could see the Apparitions Chapel, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity. I gazed with awe at the enormous gold crown atop the Basilica. I was overcome with emotion, and tears began to fall down my cheek. Not only were the Basilica and the Chapel taking my breath away, but there were so many people everywhere. How beautiful was this sight! How wonderful to see all of this created just for Mary! Living in the United States, I am questioned so many times why Catholics love Mary so much. Yet here I stood, halfway across the world, gazing upon a gleaming, gold, crown for the Queen of Heaven, Our Mother Mary. I knew this was exactly where God called me to be.
The next few days were filled with so much history and so many blessings. My Dad had been ordained a deacon just a month before our trip. So, when we celebrated daily Mass every morning in the Chapel of the Angel, he was able to serve alongside our co-group leader Deacon Tom Fox and our pilgrimage chaplain, Monsignor Peter Flood. I was in awe of this blessing to our family. We were in one of the most holy places on Earth and there was my Dad, proclaiming the Gospel and assisting during the consecration of the Most Holy Eucharist. My mom and I were so proud. When the evening came and we made our way back to the plaza to pray the Most Holy Rosary at the Apparitions Chapel, it was a sight that words could never describe with justice. There were hundreds of people holding their rosaries, candles lit, and praying together. Each mystery was prayed in a different language; it was so beautiful. I just kept thinking, how blessed I am to be a part of this Universal Church. All I could think about was how at 9:00pm every night in Fatima, there are ALWAYS hundreds of people processing with Mary and praying the Rosary while I’m going about my daily life. Wow!
After visiting the exact place where Mary appeared to the children, walking, and praying the Stations of the Cross, and taking in the beauty of the Basilica of Our Lady, it was time to continue our journey.
The Second Stop: Paris
We traveled to Paris where we visited the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. This was a place that was very near and dear to my heart, as I have fallen in love with Our Lady through the image of the Miraculous Medal. My mom had introduced me to the Miraculous Medal and the story of Saint Catherine Labouré when I was struggling the most in my life, and I have worn the Miraculous Medal around my neck ever since. Walking into the Shrine took my breath away. It was like I had walked straight into heaven. The altar was surrounded by beautiful artwork with the angels of heaven leading to Saint Catherine kneeling in front of Our Blessed Mother, right above the Table of Our Lord. The gold gleamed brightly with the gentle, Marian blue bringing a feeling of joy and comfort. Mother Mary was shining in her beauty, and reminding me that she is always with me; my beautiful, glorious Mother. The icing on the cake was seeing my Dad proclaim the Gospel near the location of the incorrupt body of St. Catherine Labouré. How blessed was I!?
The Final Stop: Lourdes
Our final destination was Lourdes, France, where we visited the Grotto of Massabielle, the place where Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette. As I walked towards the Grotto, passing the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and taking in this exquisite place built in devotion to Our Lady, I reached the Grotto. I was immediately filled with nostalgia. I was taken back to my daily walks on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, and visits with my family while I was a student. This time, I was with my wonderful parents at the actual location of Mary’s apparition. It wasn’t just a replica; it was the real thing. This time, I was gazing in awe while my Dad proclaimed the Gospel at one the holiest sites on Earth. What a blessing! We experienced the baths, prayed the Most Holy Rosary every night in procession with hundreds of people from around the world, walked and prayed the Stations of the Cross in the pouring rain and walked in the steps of St. Bernadette. I was in heaven.
The Journey’s End: A New Beginning
When it was time to travel home, I was not anxious about coming home nor was I sad about leaving. Rather, I felt at peace. This journey with Mary opened my eyes to the beauty that is our Catholic faith, the one, true, universal Church. This journey brought my faith to life; from the Marian apparition sites to the saints about whom I have come to learn. I stood in the place where Mary appeared in Fatima, knelt to pray in front of the chair in which Mother Mary sat, touched the stones of the Grotto, and watched the running springs of miracles flow. I experienced all of this with my fellow pilgrims, my new friends, and two of the most important people in my life, my parents. How blessed was I!?
While we go about our daily lives, there are hundreds—if not thousands of people around the world, sharing in our faith, praying the rosary, and loving Our Blessed Mother Mary as she should be loved. Being a pilgrim on this journey meant bringing my faith to life and falling in love all over again with Our Blessed Mother, my Mother. I felt her love during the entire journey, and I came back forever changed!
Nicole Orozco is a daughter of God and a faithful Catholic living as a single lay person. She is an active parishioner and cantor at St. Gerard’s Catholic Church. She strives to live her Catholic faith every day, evangelizing to all those she meets and giving her gifts back to the Glory of God.