I went on a Marian pilgrimage, which included Fatima, Lourdes, Lisieux, and Paris. Everything was very exciting for me. I had never traveled outside the country other than Mexico, so seeing another country was really interesting, but the fact that I was seeing places where Mary appeared, places where St. Thérèse lived, and St. Bernadette, was just awesome.
When I saw the pilgrimage through the Pilgrim Center of Hope, I inquired about it and got some information. I thought, “Oh my gosh. I don’t think I could ever go on this tour!” It was there for me and it was ready, just like I had wanted it, and I was scared. But it happened! It all happened the way that it was supposed to happen.
It wasn’t confirmed yet by a doctor, but I knew that I was pregnant when I went on pilgrimage. It wasn’t until I returned that I got the confirmation. But the whole time that I was there, I was excited to know that I was carrying a baby with me, and even though she couldn’t see the things that I could see; I felt that she could feel the feelings that I was having.
What solidified her name is the fact that I went on the Marian pilgrimage, and everything about Mary that I loved. I thought, “What better way to thank my Mother Mary than to name (my daughter) after Her?” That’s how I chose to name Ava, Ava Marie, because Ave Maria means, “Hail Mary”, and I wanted to give Her the glory of me having this baby.
The pilgrimage experience that stood out for me was being in Lourdes; taking in the Shrine and everything, but actually getting in the baths. It was extremely cold, but it was an experience that I’ll never forget! It was very exciting to go through the baths with Ava in my womb. That stood out the most.
In Fatima, the town is very humble. I told myself after I went on the pilgrimage, that I would return there with my husband. I just felt very ‘at home’ there, even though I had never been there. I felt very peaceful. At all the places, I felt peaceful, but there it was a different type of peace.
At the time, I knew about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and I knew her story, but I didn’t have a particular devotion to her. When I went to Lisieux, something about her really attracted me. I was there, at the place where she lived, at the place where she was in the convent. Just being in her footsteps around her town, I was so excited. I wanted to know anything that I could about her when I returned. Now, she’s actually my favorite saint! I really like her for the fact that she was so very simple.
One of the places that we visited was the Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine [in Paris]. There, I learned so much. The only word that came to mind was, “Wow.”People there devote themselves to praying, twenty-four hours a day, for everybody. Later, after I returned from my pilgrimage, I learned that St. Joan of Arc was there, Pope John Paul II, and so many other people were there, and I had been there!
We went to Rue du Bac in Paris, to the Miraculous Medal Shrine where Mary appeared. When I was young, my father had given me the Miraculous Medal, and I thought, “Okay, whatever…” and I set it aside. I didn’t have the knowledge that I have now, to appreciate a lot of my Catholic faith. Now that I’m older, I have those little bits of knowledge I remembered. So, a lot of things on the pilgrimage made me come home and say, “You know what? I have that medal! My dad gave it to me.” Knowing that my dad, who has passed away, gave me that medal, and having been to Rue du Bac, that was something that I brought back with me. I wear that medal, and I didn’t before. I didn’t know the story of how it came about.
I still refer to my Pilgrim Book (a customized book for every pilgrim). It’s actually like a teaching guide! It has so much information for you about the places that you visited; everything about that place. It’s something that I’ll always keep, for that reason.
The pilgrimage has had a tremendous impact. Before I went, my faith was strong, but I felt that after the pilgrimage, I really knew Mary and St. Thérèse. Just being in those locations really impacted me a lot. I actually did St. Louis de Montfort’s Consecration to Jesus through Mary. I had gotten a little booklet about it at one of the Catholic Women’s Conferences and saved it, thinking, “Oh, I’ll read it later…I’ll read it later.” When I returned, I said, “Where is that book?! I want to look for that book so that I can consecrate myself to Mary.” I couldn’t find it, and I forgot about it. Then, after Ava was born, I found the book! I thought, “I’m going to do it now,” and I did it. If it wasn’t for that pilgrimage, I don’t know if I would have done that, but I felt like I really wanted to be very close to Mary.
I have my mother on earth, but I feel like now I can just talk to Mary as if she’s with me. I say, “Oh Mom…” this and that… “I’m going through this…” or “How was it when Jesus was acting this way?” or “Did Jesus ever…?” I think I pray a lot more fervently. My husband joins me, and my daughter; she has a rosary, and of course, she doesn’t know what we’re talking about, but when we’re praying it, she’s walking around with her little rosary… It makes it a lot more meaningful.
Another thing that I did when I returned: I didn’t even know that I had St. Thérèse’s book (Story of A Soul)! I was going to have a garage sale, looking through some books, and I found that book. “Oh my gosh!” I thought, “This means that I’m supposed to read the story about you!” I did, and I just love her.
I couldn’t stress it enough: If you want to go as a tourist, then maybe you should go on another tour. But if you really want to go and get something out of it, and really learn about your own faith, and learn about whatever location… this would be the pilgrimage to go on. Not only are you visiting the sites of these holy places, but you’re also being taught about these saints. It’s just a great experience. Deacon Tom and Mary Jane really put a lot of thought into everything you do in the day. When they make these pilgrimages, I really feel that they put themselves in the position of being a first-time pilgrim; thinking, “What would I like?” “What would I enjoy?” or “What would open my eyes?” They don’t take any shortcuts anywhere. Everything is really well thought-out, from the morning until the time that you go to bed. I couldn’t ask for a better pilgrimage. I feel like I was guided individually.
So, if you can afford it and are really serious about learning about your faith, then this is the trip that you should go on. Your money is going to be well spent, and you’re going to learn so much – not just on the pilgrimage, but even after the pilgrimage.
– Gloria Chapa-Solano