Gary, Ind., Aug 17, 2014 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Last weekend, thousands of pilgrims walked more than 30 miles from a Chicago parish to an Indiana shrine dedicated to the famed Marian icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, revered by Poles and Polish-Americans.
“The pilgrimage makes it possible to express faith, experience community, make penance, ask for graces, pray for peace and, through the Mother of Jesus, show to God our gratitude and thankfulness,” Father Jozef Zuziak, a co-founder of the pilgrimage, told CNA Aug. 14.
The 80-year-old Salvatorian priest said the Aug. 9-10 pilgrimage aimed to put the new evangelization into practice.
Pilgrims are “happy to proclaim their faith in our Savior Jesus Christ,” he said.
During the pilgrimage, Fr. Zuziak reported, “pilgrims have the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation or to talk with priests and religious. And on the way we pray, we sing, we listen to spiritual conferences on different topics like the Bible, education and spiritual life.”
Pilgrimages are an ancient Christian practice by which people express their faith and seek God’s graces through traveling to shrines or other holy places, Fr. Zuziak said.
The 32-mile pilgrimage began with Mass at the historically Polish St. Michael Catholic Church in south Chicago, and closed with Mass at the Merrillville, Indiana shrine which hosts a replica of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Since 1384 the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, Poland has housed the icon also called the Black Madonna. The image depicts the Virgin Mary with a darkened face holding the Christ Child. St. Luke is traditionally regarded as the icon’s creator.
For more than 300 years Poles and others have made pilgrimages to the Polish shrine in conjunction with the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, observed Aug. 15.
The Indiana shrine dedicated to the Marian icon was built in 1883 by members of the Salvatorian order. It has been the destination of 27 annual pilgrimages.
This year’s pilgrims included many priests and vowed religious.
Fr. Zuziak said the first pilgrimage to the Indiana shrine had “about 150 participants.”
“This year there were about seven thousand.”
Several thousand more people joined the pilgrims for the closing Mass at the end of their journey.
Pilgrimage organizers customarily invite a bishop to say the Masses and preach homilies; this year’s guest was Bishop Aleh Butkevich of Vitebsk, in Belarus.
The 2014 pilgrimage was the first since the canonization of St. John Paul II, the first Polish Pope; Fr. Zuziak said that the saint “was everywhere: on our emblems, in our hearts, on our lips.”
“We were trying to make our faith stronger by listening to the explanations of his teaching,” he said.
Young people are learning about St. John Paul II by singing songs based on his teaching, by listening to conferences, and by listening to witnesses who met the Pope in person, the priest said.
Fr. Zuziak added that the pilgrimage is possible only because of its many volunteers. This year more than 400 people volunteered to help run the event.
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