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On Saturday May 31, the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa traveled from Chatfield, Minnesota to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse Wisconsin.  The shrine is a place of pilgrimage that honors Our Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, the Star of the New Evangelization and the Patroness of the Unborn.  A Memorial to the Unborn was dedicated at the shrine on December 12, 2008.

Formation of the laity is a top priority for the shrine. A year before his death, Fr. John Hardon, S.J. blessed the ground of the future site, which is also home to his lay Marian Catechist Apostolate, whose mission is to teach the Catholic faith.  After Our Lady’s apparitions on Tepeyac, Saint Juan Diego helped build the chapel for her miraculous image on the site, then spent the rest of his life teaching the faith.

The mission of the San Juan Diego Guild at the Shrine is to form youth, who are encouraged to perform one act of charity for their parents and say this short prayer before bed “Saint Juan Diego, pray for me.”  The short prayer will become part of their daily prayers and Saint Juan Diego will be called upon as an intercessor.

The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate  provide for the pastoral and spiritual needs of the pilgrims.  The Friars are consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Immaculate Conception.  St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave all to Jesus through Mary Immaculate as martyr in the Auschwitz concentration camp, is an exemplary member of this branch of the Franciscan family .

La Crosse1Greg Marco, pilgrim coordinator for the shrine, greeted us upon our arrival. Greg and his staff prepared well for the visit, including the construction of a wooden platform to fit neatly together and behind the altar rail allowing for the  icon to sit atop of the platform.

As Providence would have it, the Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa arrived on the Feast of the Visitation.  In the Mass on Saturday afternoon, Father Peter West drew parallels to the Ark of the Covenant in the Book of 2 Samuel in the Old Testament and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Gospel of Luke.  He said that the Ark was a dramatic symbol of God’s presence, but that Mary, as the new Ark of the Covenant, is greater than the old: the latter contained the tablets of the Law and the holy bread, but Mary carried Christ, who is God himself, in her womb.La Crosse2

In the Diocese of La Crosse, the Solemnity of the Ascension was celebrated on Sunday.  Fr. West celebrated the Mass on Saturday evening and spoke at all the Masses on Sunday including one in which he gave a post-communion talk in Spanish.  In his homily, he spoke of the gold in the icon as symbolic of eternity or heaven. The gold shines through the clothing of Jesus and Mary.  The icon always represents a transfigured or resurrected figure who has overcome sin and death.

Every human being is called to share in the glory of God.  In his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, St. Pope John Paul II asks,

Why is life good?...The life which God gives man is quite different from the life of all other living creatures, inasmuch as man, although formed from the dust of the earth...is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory... Man has been given a sublime dignity, based on the intimate bond which unites him to his Creator: in man there shines forth a reflection of God himself.  (#34)

The icon, therefore, reminds us of our immortal destiny.  Christ has gone to heaven to prepare a place for us, yet He remains with us through his Holy Spirit and in his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.

La Crosse3Someone mentioned an interesting association between the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: neither conform to traditional European icon depictions of Our Lady. The Black Madonna and Our Lady of Guadalupe, who has dark complexion of a Mestiza woman, remind us of the universal nature of the Church. Our Lady appeals to people of every nation and race.

Our Lady’s visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse anticipates her future visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The association is even stronger through the Franciscans. The Polish Franciscan St. Maximilian Kolbe had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa, whose pilgrim icon now travels throughout the world in defense of life and the family.  Franciscans had a key role in evangelizing Mexico and bringing the Catholic faith to all the New World. Our Lady of Guadalupe brought an end to the brutal practice of human sacrifice in Mexico City.  Our Lady of Czestochowa and Our Lady of Guadalupe are, of course, both icons of the Mother of Jesus. She is God’s chosen instrument to defeat Satan and the culture of death. Let us call on her with confidence to win this spiritual battle.

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