The Marian Journey

Avila, Spain; Father Leonard, Natalie, and me

In  2015 our ministry traveled on a Marian Journey. On a Marian journey, a person travels to holy places where the Blessed Mother has appeared. The purpose of the trip was to draw us closer to Jesus through the apparitions of Mary. For those of you who doubt Mary and the saints, allow me to share this holy experience.

We had visited France and Spain, but this story is about Spain. This was a fourteen-day trip, and on the second day, I lost  my wallet or it was stolen from me. Either way I did not have any income whatsoever, and two credit cards, American money and Euros were all gone. I had to depend on the kindness of others and mostly God to get through the trip. Mike could not wire me money because our trip was based on one-night stays. I thank God that our passports were collected on the morning of the missing wallet incident. Father Leonard was the chaplain for the trip, and he lent me a one-hundred-dollar bill. The irony was that I could not cash in the bill because of counterfeit $100 bills being circulated; only a bank would take the bill and due to our time frame, banks were closed .

We visited Our Lady of the Pillar, in  Zaragoza, Spain. This is the first known apparition of the Blessed Mother.  After Pentecost, the 12 Disciples dispersed to preach the Gospel to the world. St. James the Great  journey’s took him to the Iberian Peninsula, which is modern day Spain/Portugal. St. James was discouraged that pagans were not responding to his message, so as he sat at the edge of the Ebro River, modern day Zaragoza, Mary appeared to him to offer encouragement. (Mary was still alive and living in Jerusalem.) Mary told St. James not to worry, because the people to whom he preached would be converted. Mary appeared to St. James atop a pillar of jasper carried by angels, Mary handed St. James a small wooden statue of herself holding the Christ Child. The date was October 12 in the year 40 AD, and  the Blessed Mother asked that a church be built on that spot in her honor. In Mary’s words:

“This place is to be my house and the image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build…and the people of this land will honor greatly my Son Jesus.”

Father Leonard preparing for Mass at Our Lady of the Pillar Zaragoza, Spain
Father Leonard venerating the original statue from the Blessed Mother given to St. James the Great, Our Lady of the Pillar

St. James was about to give up his mission when he was greatly alleviated by the Blessed Mother. St. James built the small chapel as the Blessed Mother requested; it is known as Our Lady of the Pillar, and is the first known Marian shrine. The original chapel was replaced by beautiful basilica which was erected in the 17 Century. The original statue of Mary with the Christ Child is housed there, and pilgrims from all over the world come to venerate the gift that Mary left St. James.

There is a strong connection between the  discovery of the  Americas and the Blessed Mother. Christoper Columbus had a great devotion to the Mother of God. Columbus named one of his ships the Santa Maria. On Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas, his crew suffered from the grueling, uncharted waters, and after two months, they wanted to turn back. Christopher Columbus told them that if they did not see any land by the Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar, October twelfth, he would turn back. On October 12 they landed by God’s providence.  As Columbus set foot on the new land, he claimed it in the Name of Jesus Christ. He named it ” San Salvador” (Holy Savior). San Salvador is known by the same name today.

The fortified city of Avila, Spain

Part of the Marian journey was to visit Avila, Spain, home to St. Teresa of Avila. St Avila is one of my favorite saints. She had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. After losing her mother at 13 years, she begged the Blessed Mother to become her mother. She was a mystic, with prolific spiritual writings that are still used today. She was the first woman to be elevated to Doctor of the Church  in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. One of her most famous writings is The Interior Castle.

Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

— St Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila,
The apparition of St. Teresa of Avila as it appeared to our group

We visited the monastery where she lived, and  the second level was converted  into a museum. As we walked around, I came to a  document with folded creases, but as I  intensely stared at it, I noticed a face of a woman. I thought it odd, but just I was about to asked, other team members about this, Robert’s and Linda’s eyes were already fixated on the same image. Our tour guide ran out screaming to inform the nuns, and a big commotion followed. We believe that an image of St. Teresa of Avila appeared to us.  It was a holy encounter.

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