At the heart of our tradition, pilgrimage lies as a devotion that allows us to move physically from one place to another so that our spirits may also be moved to deeper communion with Christ. Pilgrimage helps us to come away for a while, reminding us that time and place are not just commodities, but gifts received that we are called as God's children to return to the Father.
Pope Benedict's expression of gratitude during his recent trip to Brazil, the first Latin American visit of his papacy, reminds us of the sanctity of time and place and the grace of being sent so that we may more deeply return home. It is with great anticipation that I look forward to joining you on October 13 as our own diocese travels together as a family to another place to be renewed and receive the fruits of pilgrimage. This year's pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, "Mary's House," will take place on the 90th anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three peasant children.
It is striking that Our Lady appeared to children and entrusted to them her important message of prayer and devotion to her Immaculate Heart. However, this should not be surprising because it reminds us that "unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3; cf. Mt 19:13-14, Mk 10:15). Jesus' attitude toward children in the Gospel shows us that child-like wonder and joy is, in itself, an enduring value. Therefore, it is with such a spirit that you and I receive Our Lady of Fatima's message and seek ever more to deepen our prayer and penance, so that the peace which her Son wills for our world may truly be realized.
The image of pilgrimage has always been held close to me in my service to you as shepherd of the Diocese of Arlington. I remember reflecting on it in the homily for the day of my installation over eight years ago, recalling the words of Pope John Paul II: "the whole of the Christian life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature, and in particular for the ‘prodigal son' (cf. Lk 15:11-32), we discover anew each day. This pilgrimage takes place in the heart of each person, extends to the believing community and then reaches to the whole of humanity" (Tertio Millennio Adventiente, 1994 in Installation Homily, March 25, 1999).
Mary, the Mother of the Lord Jesus, accompanies us on every pilgrimage as the model of the perfect response to God. With her whole life, she teaches us to say "fiat — yes" in response to God's initiative of calling us ever more deeply into His life and love. May our own "fiats" be drawn into the "yes" of Christ and Mary as we hear and respond to the message of Fatima once again. May this time of diocesan preparation marked by prayer, Eucharistic adoration, and participation in the sacrament of penance and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass draw us closer to the Lord through the intercession of His Mother. "In Mary most holy, we also see perfectly fulfilled the ‘sacramental' way that God comes down to meet his creatures and involves them in his saving work" (Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007).
As we respond to the message of Our Lady of Fatima in prayerful preparation for our diocesan pilgrimage, may Mary our Mother guide us all as children on this earthly pilgrimage toward eternal communion with her Son. Our Lady of Fatima, open our hearts to Christ.