Journey by the Book: Travel to Alabama and Portugal From the Comfort of Home

Embark on a reading ‘pilgrimage.’

Photography books allow readers to visit the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama (clockwise from top left), as well as Fatima (shown above left).
Photography books allow readers to visit the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama (clockwise from top left), as well as Fatima (shown above left). (photo: Our Lady of the Angels Monastery and Marian Press book photos)

Maybe you’ve taken an “online pilgrimage” from the virtual video tours recently recommended by the Register.

Now, take another trip, a mini-pilgrimage. The vehicle of transport this time is a beautiful book filled with colorful photos that can bring you close-up to different areas of the pilgrimage site, along with interesting facts, as you linger as long as you want.

Visit the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama, which Mother Angelica built, thanks to Come and See: A Pilgrim’s Picture Book.

The tour begins with aerial views of the long, curving drive and the shrine at its end. Then “step” onto the grand piazza, more expansive than two football fields. Appreciate the immensity from that aerial view. Stop and pray before the “centerpiece” in pure white Carrara marble, the monument to El Divino Niño Jesús, shown holding in his hand a heart aflame with love. It’s made in the image which Mother Angelica saw come alive in a vision while she was in a basilica in Bogotá, Columbia, a vision that told her to “Build me a temple, and I will help those who help you.” Mother Angelica herself explains the details — and more — on why this church is called a “temple.”

The grand scale of the cloistered walks and the church itself is a breathtaking sight while “walking” up to the wondrous façade modeled after the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. The seven steps up to the doors symbolize the seven days of creation and seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The bronze Great Doors are equal to the finest doors marking the grand entrances of European cathedrals and basilicas. Then get a good look at the doors’ 14 panels, picturing the seven joys and seven sorrows of the Blessed Mother. Each is detailed in close-ups for meditation and admiration.

Then “enter” the temple’s nave in a two-page spread that presents the interior in golden glow, surrounded by beauty that prompts one’s gaze to the sanctuary and, high above the altar, the Eucharistic Presence of Our Lord in the brilliant monstrance.

No detail is spared for Our Lord. The reredos towers 55 feet, and spanning the sanctuary is carved rare wood embellished and adorned with 23-carat gold leaf.

High above, the monstrance for perpetual adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is considered the “heart of the Temple.”

Another two-page spread shows the elaborate setting for the nearly eight-foot-high monstrance, so visitors on the public side and nuns on the private side of the sanctuary who carry out the perpetual adoration can pray  before Our Lord. See the fine details showing depictions of angels adoring our Eucharistic Lord. The delicately carved and detailed wood cupola surrounding the monstrance and scene is covered in gold leaf.

Everywhere, Our Lord is the focus. The gold tabernacle resembles a Gothic church. The symbol of the monstrance on it is patterned after the monstrance on Mother Angelica’s habit. On the tabernacle “church” façade, the Stations of the Cross appear in relief.

And the sanctuary floor gleams with rare Macedonian “sugar marble,” while various marbles from Italy, Spain and beyond form other beautiful flooring and aisles highlighted with many liturgical symbols, such as the Star of Bethlehem. High in the clerestory windows, the three archangels, angels from all nine choirs, a guardian angel and an angel of the apocalypse appear in stained glass.

All the stained-glass windows, custom made in Munich in centuries-old style, are fashioned from particular glass made only in Germany, bringing figures and scenes alive with color.

Scenes include God the Father in the rose window and the Holy Spirit descending with his gifts. Also meditate on some of the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in the nave’s large stained-glass windows.

Next, pray before Our Lady of Grace, depicted  at the royal side altar resplendent in gold.

Then approach very close to the statue of El Divino Niño Jesús in the other side altar. The depiction of the Christ Child’s open arms encourages prayer.

So much beckons pilgrims in this tour — everything from the moving Crucifixion scene above the Grand Stairway leading to the Lower Church to the permanent display of the Shroud of Turin. The Lower Church, on a smaller scale, also inspires great reverence. This is where Mother Angelica is buried.

Linger and pray where you wish — maybe before the altar, or the monstrance; or by Our Lady of Grace; or meditate on the particular mystery depicted in one of the windows; or pray to one or more of the angels. Or, as you turn the page to end the day’s “trip,” reflect before the statue of El Divino Niño Jesús on the piazza and thank him for his presence at this temple.

Feeling adventurous and want to “travel” across the Atlantic? Join Father Joseph Roesch for an armchair trip to Portugal in Fatima: A Pilgrimage With Mary, which shares details of the events surrounding the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to the three shepherd children during 1917 and, before that, the visit of the angel in 1916.

Father Roesch, who is vicar general of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also gives important insights and explanations of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima.

Along the way, just at the right time, he “bumps into” some Fatima experts, such as a nun who is an Oblate of Our Lady of Fatima and a Portuguese theologian based at Fatima, who add their explanations in a brief “chat” with him — and armchair pilgrims alike.

Father Roesch has a simple way of weaving together events to highlight blessed messages.

After quoting Jesus, who told us that, unless we become like little children, we won’t enter the kingdom of heaven, the priest-tour guide says, “One sure way to become like children? Like the Fatima visionaries, joyfully put away childish things and become apt pupils of Our Lady.”

At another stop, one of the nuns shares how one of the gravest offenses against God — which Fatima’s messages want to correct — is offending him “by our refusal to accept His love” in the Person of Jesus Christ because so many live as if Jesus’ life, death and resurrection never happened.

Father Roesch counsels: “Like the shepherd children of Fatima, who learned that through their prayers and sacrifices they could help awaken this sense of God in the hearts of others, we can do the same.”

Many pages of pictures illustrate the solace found here. Spot the different statues around the shrine. Then “accompany” the procession of Our Lady.

Next, look over Fatima from the rooftops and see the house where Sts. Jacinta and Francisco lived in Aljustrel, the seers’ tombs and Lucia’s home.

Also view the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary at different times of year, keeping in mind the Fatima message.

As Father Roesch explains, “God the Father sent Our Lady of Fatima to remind her children of eternal truths that have not changed. Fatima teaches us that God the Father loves His children tenderly, like a loving mother, and that he wants this world to be saved.”

Joseph Pronechen is a

Register staff writer.


Come and See: A Pilgrim’s Picture Book is available from the Hanceville shrine, from and from or (800) 854-6316.
Fatima: A Pilgrimage With Mary is available from the Marian Fathers, from and from or (800) 854-6316.