The Shrine is closed to us. Now what?
For centuries pilgrims have journeyed to holy sites. Places where Our Lord walked, or where Our Lady appeared, where saints are buried, or where martyrs shed their blood. For 24 years we have done the same thing: we have walked to Our Lady’s Shrine of Martyrs at Auriesville, NY, to pray to the saints who evangelized this nation and shed their blood for its conversion.
But this year, the 25th, we have been told that our destination is closed to us. Because of panic over coronavirus, public authorities have forbidden groups on the grounds of the Shrine — threatening fines to Shrine and pilgrims of $2,600 per person per incident. The same authorities and widespread hysteria make New York State inhospitable to pilgrims, as regulations change week to week, even day to day.
If we no longer have Our Lady’s Shrine in Auriesville as our destination, can we still be pilgrims? Is there any point to moving the pilgrimage — to walking a different path, ending in a different holy place?
Yes, we can still be pilgrims. And perhaps the change in location is truly a blessing meant to teach us something more about what being a pilgrim means, and why we walk as we do.
Being a pilgrim is not the same as being a tourist. A tourist’s interest is merely the destination: the “tourist attraction.” The journey there is unimportant, even a nuisance. A pilgrim’s goal is partially the destination, but in a much greater sense, the pilgrim’s goal is the experience of pilgrimage itself.
When we walk the pilgrimage for restoration, our goal is to walk in the footsteps of the martyrs. Our goal is not to see the places where they suffered and died, although these places are special and holy. Our goal is instead to follow in their footsteps — to suffer and die to ourselves as they did — IN CHRIST, not principally in Auriesville.
The destination is the end point, but really, the act of being on pilgrimage is why we come. We take the time out of our lives and schedules, and put aside our earthly cares and comforts. We gather together in prayer and suffering to emulate the martyrs who suffered so much for the conversion of our nation, to arrive at the destination of all pilgrims who give witness to Christ: Christ Himself.
Christ is our destination. Christ Crucified. Christ reigning.
The outward journey is but a sign of the deeper pilgrimage we make: through the wilderness of our souls, to the place where The Holy Trinity dwells, deep within.
America needs conversion. The events of this year have made this clearer than ever. Our nation needs the Faith. The North American Martyrs brought Christ to our country once, and now in our time it needs to happen again. Who will bring Christ to our nation?
Our Lady of Guadalupe will continue to do that, as she has since first appearing. She is truly the Mother of the Church in this hemisphere. “Am I not here, who am your Mother?” she said reassuringly to St. Juan Diego. She is the Empress of the Americas. And this year we go straight to her National Shrine, in Allentown, to beg her to pray with us, for us: to extend her Divine Son’s reign over us all.
The Auriesville Shrine is closed to us, but we can still walk the martyrs’ path, because the path is not a geographical location, but a journey of prayer and suffering. The North American Martyrs wouldn’t allow even the threat of death to stop them from their earthly pilgrimage. They were visiting a New World, but it was not their goal. They knew they were pilgrims, not tourists.