Go, Pray, Be a Pilgrim!

Celebrate the Year of Faith with Mary at churches far or near.

The day after Ash Wednesday, Tim and Angela Urban, with their four children and relatives Matt and Karen Golesh, set out on pilgrimage to a series of specially designated churches in the Archdiocese of Denver.

They are among a number of people using this Year of Faith to strengthen their faith via pilgrimage — near or far.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI decreed that the faithful can gain a plenary indulgence in this Year of Faith, which runs through Nov. 24, in several ways. The indulgence can be gained, one per day, each time the faithful visit a papal basilica, a catacomb, a cathedral or a holy site designated by the local bishop for the Year of Faith (basilicas and shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the apostles or patron saints or particular churches; diocesan websites and newspapers list official places of pilgrimage for local Catholics) and participate in a sacred celebration or remain awhile praying or meditating. The visit should end with the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form and a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, depending on the circumstances, to the apostles and patron saints. This includes the standard requirements for any plenary indulgence: sacramental confession, receiving the Eucharist, praying for the intentions of the Pope, and being as unattached to sin as possible.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila named eight official sites across the Denver Archdiocese. Among the sites are the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the Mother Cabrini Shrine, Our Lady of Loreto Church and St. Michael Church. There is even an added bonus for pilgrims through Pentecost. "We came up with a campaign for the newspaper, where we made a ‘Pilgrimage Passport,’ which is like the Camino of Santiago de Compostela (in Spain)," said Karna Swanson, the archdiocesan communications director. "Instead of getting stamps on the journey, the pilgrims here answer questions found in the churches relating to something about the faith."

The Urbans and Goleshes (who are Angela Urban’s parents) decided to make a pilgrimage to all eight sites in one day. "We knew you only needed to go to one church to get the plenary indulgence," Karen Golesh explained, "but we did all of the prayers for the plenary indulgence at all of the churches together. We spent time in private prayer and lit candles at some of them. It was really a powerful experience."

Two of the churches had Eucharistic adoration going on when they arrived. "That was a beautiful addition," Angela Urban said. Angela found herself growing in faith in several ways during the day pilgrimage, including trusting God. It became "amazing" how things worked out, Angela said, because they would not have been able to visit some churches if they had arrived any later than they did. For her, the pilgrimage was like taking part in a great journey, reminding her of the many journeys in the Bible and many ways to walk with Christ.

Their day pilgrimage offered another benefit. "I know pilgrimages usually involve hardships, and there’s growth from that," she said. "I expected it to come from our four children, 6 and under, but they were angels." The Urban children showed how little ones can grow in faith on pilgrimages. Karen Golesh described how her 6-year-old granddaughter Summer took her excitedly into the confessionals in all of the churches. "She wanted to see them because she’s going to be making that sacrament for the first time soon," Karen recalled. "It was very touching and heartwarming."

Matt Golesh remembered how the children helped find the answer to a question on the baptismal font at one of the churches because they were at the right height to see. The stories of faith in the stained-glass windows, statues and beautiful workmanship "spoke volumes to me," Matt added.

Tim Urban pointed out how 3-year-old Joseph not only helped search for the answers to passport questions, he even "found a hidden statue of the Virgin Mary" that was the object of a search. "As far as growing in faith, we prepared them for this and got sheets ready to work on for the next stops," Tim said, explaining how the children had a coloring sheet per church to complete en route. The one for Our Lady of Loreto Church was an image of Mary’s house from Loreto. As Angela explained that to the children on the way out of the church, the family saw a relic from the actual house in Loreto. Their oldest daughter was especially excited to see it after knowing the story and coloring the picture.

Angela recalled the beauty of seeing the children’s faces and their excitement in pointing out crucifixes or saying, "Look at Momma Mary" by Marian statues. "It was good (for them) to see different statues of Mary but realize it’s the same faith and the same Blessed Mother," she explained. "The children grow in that recognition early, as they did with the different versions of the crucifix. It was beautiful to see so much of their faith in front of them and then to pray together in that presence."

The family said a variety of prayers to our Blessed Mother at each church. Praying for the intercession of the Mother of God is something that Pope Francis has already done in his first weeks as our Holy Father. The day after his election, early in the morning, he made a papal "pilgrimage" to St. Mary Major in Rome to pray for quite a while before the icon of Our Lady of Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People), placing his pontificate under her patronage.

Marian shrines, basilicas and churches abound for the faithful in the U.S. In Orlando, Fla., faithful tourists can go to the magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. In Portland, Ore., pilgrims can visit St. Mary Church, a local parish dedicated to our Blessed Mother and a diocesan pilgrimage site for the plenary indulgence. In Wisconsin, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, Green Bay Bishop David Ricken and La Crosse Bishop William Callahan have designated three Marian shrines as places of pilgrimage for the Year of Faith: the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion; the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill, Hubertus; and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse.

Father Peter Damian Fehlner, a Franciscan of the Immaculate and rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said making a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine is special because of Mary’s unique role in the Church. "Because she is the Mother of Jesus, who is the object of our faith, and she is the Mother in the spiritual order, she is the mediatrix of the gift of faith in us and how it is exercised," he said. "She is the one who shores up our faith." Father Fehlner further explained: "She is the Mother of Jesus, and she is our mother. She brings Jesus to us, and she brings us to Jesus."

That’s exactly what Mary did for the Urbans and Goleshes during their whirlwind, grace-filled Year of Faith pilgrimage in Denver.

As Angela Urban put it, "It was like we were praying as a family for 20 hours."

Joseph Pronechen is the

Register’s staff writer.