Author’s Note: A few years ago, a reader wrote us and asked about why shrines and pilgrimages are important. Because I will be leading a pilgrimage in March 2016 together with Teresa Tomeo, I thought this was a timely topic to share again for those of you who may not have read it and who may wonder the same. – Dan
Our friends over at the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia have provided this answer for us:
I am a recent convert and I don’t understand the whole “shrine” thing. What makes a shrine a shrine? Why do Catholics go to these places? Why should I care? Oh, one more thing, the “pilgrimage” thing I guess is also tied to shrines. What about that?
Let’s begin with that “shrine thing” first, and then we can talk about the importance of those “pilgrimage things.” After that we will wrap up with a bit of specific information about the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia.
What is a shrine and why should I care?
For thousands of years people have been traveling on local and destination pilgrimages and from this we have seen hundreds of shrines emerge.
So, why should I care? What is in it for me? I go to Mass and live the Catholic Life, what else could a shrine have to offer?
A Shrine is officially defined as a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific martyr, saint, Our Blessed Mother, or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated. A Shrine gives us another place to truly learn about our God, Our Blessed Mother, and many of the saints, each one honoring and focusing on a story, a history and giving us better understanding our faith.
Those who come to the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia tell us that their visit is both a spiritual and physical journey. Coming physically to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal’s altar, just as she told St. Catherine that we are to “Come to the altar and pray and great graces will be shed upon you,” brings a great sense of peace, reflection and even accomplishment.
Fr. Michael Shea, CM, Assistant Director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, tells us that “The Irish call a place that you feel closer to God ‘A Thin Place’. This refers to the veil between us and heaven feeling thinner, allowing a stronger feeling of God’s Love and graces wrap around you like a blanket of reassurance.” This is a wonderful description of a shrine, where you can come, pray, lay your burdens down, and feel wrapped in God’s Love through Mary’s or another saint’s intercession on your behalf.
Shrines are a place of learning, love, and refuge from our hectic and sometimes spiritually deprived lives. Shrines are often associated with intercessory prayers for healing of various ailments or other troubles. They also bring Catholics together in community of prayer and their faith.
Why are pilgrimages important?
By definition, a pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith. Many religions attach spiritual importance to particular places: the place of birth or death of founders or saints; the place of their “calling” or spiritual awakening; place where they believe miracles were performed or witnessed; or locations where a deity is said to live or be “housed”.
Taking time for your spiritual well being and/or physical healing is an important part of our journey here on earth as Catholics. Through a pilgrimage, we can find solace in the planning, traveling and visiting of shrines themselves. When a pilgrim comes to the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or back from a pilgrimage from another shrine they seem to be filled with the Holy Spirit and excited to share about their wonderful experience.
The 100+ shrines in the United States, and hundreds all over the world, are gifts of our Faith given and waiting to be received. They are God’s gifts waiting to help us find more of Heaven’s great graces through understanding and prayer.
Note from Dan:
A pilgrimage can be a great way to deepen your faith life and grow closer to Christ.
More Information about the Miraculous Medal Shrine
In 1830, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Labouré three times. The first time, to tell her of troubling times to come and the job she had for Catherine. The second time, appearing as the Mother of the World, holding a globe with a cross on top. The third time was immediately after, depicted in what we now call the Miraculous Medal, hands outstretched, standing on the globe, crushing the snake, with rays of graces shining down on the world. The details of the medal were very specific. The Blessed Mother said that people who wore the medal around their necks and prayed would be blessed with special graces.
The Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Germantown, Philadelphia, PA has been a favorite place of pilgrimage and retreats for Catholics in Philadelphia and surrounding areas for almost a century. In 1927, Vincentian Father Joseph Skelly, the founder of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, introduced nine-day novenas in what was then the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1879.
Fr. Carl Pieber, C.M., Executive Director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal , believes the Shrine “is a special place of prayer and solace for many people. It is the place where the Blessed Mother becomes our mother, and as our mother we come to her when we are in pain and in need of help.”
Thousands of people come to the Shrine, located at 500 E. Chelten Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19144 every week to attend one of the nine Monday Novenas. The Shrine also hosts throughout the week many pilgrimage groups who come for Tours and a special Novena or a Religious Retreat of their own design.
There are many beautiful shrines within this Shrine, all dedicated to Our Lady. The center of Marian devotion at the Shrine is a side chapel which has a large marble sculpture of Mary as she is depicted on what is now known as the “Miraculous Medal.”
A Marian Museum, located across the street from the Miraculous Medal Shrine, contains 500+ pieces of art dedicated to the Blessed Mother. The museum also contains one of the original Miraculous Medals that was in the possession of St. Catherine Labouré.
See the web for details about novenas and events at: www.MiraculousMedal.org
* CM – Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian)