Author: Lana Kaczmarek

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7:00 pm


Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe

ORLANDO | The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe was dim, mostly lit by dozens of candles that flickered at the altar, their flame casting light on a cross and an image of the Madonna. This was the Vigil to Dry Tears, February 27.

Many knelt before the image of Christ crucified and Our Lady, tethered to the altar by a purple fabric flowing from the images to those kneeling – a sign of Lent, of repentance, of healing. Each person bearing their hearts and allowing Jesus and His Mother to cleanse them of their fears, their guilt, their burdens.

“We come to you for healing Lord, of body, mind and soul. And pray that by your Spirit’s touch, we may again be whole,” sang the choir at the opening of the service. Pausing between reflections, the music allowed the words to take root. A reading from the Gospel of Matthew proclaimed, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

After various reflections, Bishop John Noonan offered a short homily, assuring those gathered of God’s “matchless love”. “To experience God’s mercy in our lives is to know and experience God’s love,” he said. “Tears cleanse the mind, heart and the soul. So that our response to God is simply, mercy Lord. Thank you, Lord, for your love and merciful care for each and every one of us.”

Alex Carey from Corpus Christi Parish in Celebration participated in prayer with several others from the young adult group. As one by one people went to kneel at the steps of the altar to pray, Carey too approached the crucifix and knelt before the image of the Virgin Mary. Overcome, he began to sob. After some time, he rose to find a new friend in Christ, Patricia Marques, reaching out to comfort him. As she hugged him, he began to weep again.

Consecrated to Mary, she said it was Our Mother who gave her courage to go to Carey and give him a rosary and image of Jesus. She told him, “Mary is with you. When you feel alone, hold this rosary and you are holding the hand of Mary. She is with you. And Jesus is with you.”

Marques contained her own tears as she hugged him again. “At a moment like that, the person needs your strength,” said the Resurrection Parish in Winter Garden parishioner. “I wanted him to feel that human affection. I don’t know what he is carrying. The Virgin Mary kept telling me, ‘Hug him’.” Marques said she wanted Carey to feel Mary’s arms embracing him, by using her own.

“The tears are necessary for freedom because we must clean the soul to give that cross to Jesus and Mary. He’s not going to remove it, but will give you the strength to continue as they did,” she said. “What we did here tonight was beautiful. I saw many people crying, and one must cry to cleanse, because Jesus cried, we must too. But there are also tears of joy.”

Carey shared how much the experience helped him. Driving to the shrine with his friend, Carey recalled thinking, “There must be a meaning behind this.” “When I went up to the crucifix, that’s when I experienced it,” he said. “That’s when I knew.” He explained he struggled with great anxieties and fears and that his mother passed away in 2022 from a heart attack. “I was very close to my mom, and I miss her. It’s still hard because I loved her,” he shared. “I really needed the healing. I really needed it. This place is a very spiritual place.”

“I not only felt that I was able to release what was burdening me, but I knew there was something there. And when the woman came up to me and said the Virgin Mary’s with me, I knew what it was. I felt close to Jesus and Mary. I love them.”

His friend, Austin Adams, said simply bringing his friend was probably the most powerful thing for him. “To see his healing… Then when I was up there, I prayed for my friend whose father has chronic pain. It was nice to be able to bear it all out there and trust in the Lord. We can all learn something from Alex.”

Nicole, Marques’s daughter, found the music and the atmosphere led to deeper reflection and an examination of conscience. “It encourages more reflection on how one can grow spiritually, as a brother or sister in their community, as a child of God, as a daughter of Mary.”

During the remaining hour, four priests were available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, offering further healing.

Click here to watch the Vigil to Dry Tears.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, February 29, 2024

ORLANDO | It’s not Lourdes, but it’s close, said Father Anthony Aarons, Missionary of Mercy and rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe.

After his own pilgrimage to France in 2023, seeing the lines of those waiting to be anointed and healed of their afflictions, it occurred to him he could do the same at the basilica. Believing miracles are occurring in central Florida as well, he inaugurated the first Pilgrimage of the Sick in the Diocese of Orlando.

On Feb. 10, pilgrims poured into the basilica to pray the rosary and receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Eucharist. The pilgrimage coincided with World Day of the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, of course.

Father Miguel González, rector of St. James Cathedral also traveled to the basilica to speak with the faithful. After the rosary, he spoke of, “the graces a person with an illness receives when they pray and abandon themselves to God’s presence.”

He added not only is the person evangelized by the support of the people, family, friends, and others praying for them, but “he is also an evangelizer because he’s bringing them to prayer and he’s giving witness of his great trust and confidence in the healing power of God.”

For him, the pilgrimage was an answer to prayer. Father González knew pilgrims would find comfort at the basilica, “where our Blessed Mother welcomes us and leads us to her son.”

Noting the event was “grace-filled”, he found joy and excitement on the pilgrims’ faces as they brought their concerns, conditions, and pains before the Lord, “knowing the Lord will restore them to wholeness.”

“He will heal us physically and spiritually,” said Father González. “All we have to do is present ourselves before Him so we may open our ears and our mouths, to listen to His words, to trust in His healing power, to trust in His promise of salvation, so that we may profess it with our lips and give witness of how the Lord has restored us; of how the Lord has not failed us. He accompanies and embraces us with His healing touch.”

Father Aarons agreed. He anointed young people with cancer, those with disabilities, the elderly in wheelchairs and was touched by their sincere faith.

Recalling the day’s Gospel reading from Mt 8:5 where the centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, but feels unworthy that Jesus should enter his home, he likened the centurion to those present recognizing their own need for healing.

“Through this Eucharist and anointing, we invoke His healing power,” Father Aarons said. Praying for those in pain, distressed or otherwise afflicted, he reminded them “they are chosen among those proclaimed blessed and are united to Christ in His suffering for the salvation of the world.”

The pilgrimage will be an annual event offering the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and Eucharist to all in search of peace.

The Mass and anointing moved Mary Regina Harms to tears. With an impending surgery that week, Harms said her tears have always made her feel the Holy Spirit is near. She was grateful the pilgrimage was offered for the community, acknowledging there is great need, evident by the more than 400 who attended and the more than 200 who received the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

“And to have the special grace of this special Sacrament given to us today is wonderful,” she said.

Guerda Jean-Pierre also received the Sacrament. She prayed for her own healing and that of her 4-year-old granddaughter, diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. “They say there is no cure for it, but I know God is the God of the impossible,” she said.

Jean-Pierre said the pilgrimage brought her peace, a peace she prayed extended to her entire family. “It was beautiful,” she said. “It reinforced our faith in God. It gives us hope. He is the only One. There is no other.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, February 15, 2024

ORLANDO | In its third year running, Caravana Guadalupana: Our Way to Jesus, makes its final stop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Dec. 10. The caravan of cars from more than 20 parishes began small during the COVID pandemic and has expanded, requiring more space for vehicles to park at its conclusion.

Basilica rector, Father Anthony Aarons looked forward to hosting the event honoring the nation’s patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe, especially for the arrival of those in traditional Aztec dress.

Formerly, the caravan ended at St. James Cathedral in Orlando, parading through its small parking lot as vehicles received a final benediction. If people wanted to stop and pray before the Blessed Sacrament, they had to park one block away. “The success of the Caravana Guadalupana continues to draw more people to this special Marian feast,” said Father Miguel González, rector of St. James Cathedral. “The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe not only provides a bigger space for the caravan to make its visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also is a proper site to make pilgrimage to our Blessed Mother’s house.”

The idea came to Lisette Saint-Hilaire when the pandemic hit. For more than 18 years she and her team directed the re-enactment of Juan Diego’s encounter with the Virgin Mary on the hill of Tepeyac, Mexico. The re-enactment was the legacy of her brother, who passed away when she was young. Saint-Hilaire hopes this caravan, with its colorful floats and people praying the rosary, will lead to the conversion of many here in central Florida.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, December 15, 2023

Join us in a reflection about the Blessed Mother presented by Deacon Joe Gassman.


Program: 9:00 am – 10:30 am

Confessions: 10:30 am – 11:45 am

Mass: 12:00 pm


Daystar Chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe

Father Anthony Easter message

Click here to watch the video!

ORLANDO | As a high school seminarian living in the Philippines, Father Glenn Lopez credited Santo Niño, the image of the child Jesus dressed as a king, with helping him remain steadfast on the path toward his vocation.

“After high school, my mother and I attended Mass at the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu, where Santo Niño originated,” said Father Lopez, parochial vicar at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in Oviedo. “She dedicated me to Santo Niño, praying for me to become a priest. After the Mass, my mother had a Cebu prayer dancer pray for me by name in the native language. This could very well have been the moment of grace for me in my vocation.”

On Jan. 29, Father Lopez joined other Filipino priests along with roughly 800 laity for the 17th Diocesan Annual Eucharistic Celebration for the feast day of Santo Niño. Bishop John Noonan of Orlando celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, with Father Peter Puntal, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood, as the homilist.

“The beatitudes first show us the childlike faith of Santo Niño – be humble of heart and poor in spirit,” Father Puntal said. “Children know how to have fun – they play, they laugh…it is easy for them to forgive. We were created for light. We must learn to have fun, to have joy when Jesus said, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow.’”

In his homily, Father Puntal provided several ways of how to cultivate joy in our lives. First, he advised to start the day off right by thanking the Lord for the gift of life and asking Him to guide us away from negativity. Second, he encouraged spending time with family and friends. Third, he recommended growing our sense of humor. And lastly, he said we gain joy by helping others.

The Mass was followed by Sinulog dancing and a re-enactment of the Spaniards led by Ferdinand Magellan who presented Santo Niño to Queen Juana of the Philippines in 1521. This event marks the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines. It has been said, while holding the image of Santo Niño, the newly baptized and converted Queen Juana danced with joy which led other native Filipinos to follow. This moment is regarded as the first Sinulog, an annual cultural and Catholic festival traditionally held in the Philippines on the third Sunday of every January. It includes dancing to honor Santo Niño.

The sculptural image of Santo Niño looks similar to the Infant Jesus of Prague – both originating from Spain. The original wooden statue of Santo Niño is still intact today, more than 500 years since its gifting to Queen Juana. Pope Francis mentioned the Holy Child as the protector of the Philippines during his visit to Manila in 2015.

“The reverencing of Santo Niño is the oldest of all devotions that we have in the Philippines,” said Father Kenny Aquino, pastor of Divine Mercy Catholic Community in Merritt Island, and liaison to the Filipino Ministry of the Diocese of Orlando. “There is an identity of love for Santo Niño that Filipinos have passed on from one generation to the next. You will see the image of Santo Niño in almost every Filipino home. Santo Niño reminds us that through Jesus we will never be abandoned in our suffering.”

While the feast of Santo Niño is a celebration of Filipino heritage, Father Aquino said it is the reassurance that the Holy Child of Jesus will be a companion to migrants as they journey from home. “Santo Niño is a source of solace and hope. It is a blessing to be with Santo Niño,” he said.

The feast of Santo Niño holds a particularly special place in Father Aquino’s heart. The Jan. 15 feast day, while a moveable feast day, also happens to be Father Aquino’s birthday. “I’ve been very close to the Holy Child of Jesus. In many instances of my life, I find encouragement and affinity to the Holy Child,” he shared.

Tribu Orlando, a group of local Sinulog dancers, first started as a group of 20 Filipino families across the Diocese, coming together to pray a novena ahead of the Sinulog festival. A priest later recommended they open their celebrations and prayer to the larger Catholic community to participate. After the Jan. 29 Santo Niño celebration Mass, Tribu Orlando led several Sinulog dances.

“I love the devotion of Sinulog to Santo Niño,” said Lei Mosqueda, one of the Sinulog dancers and event organizers. “I apply this devotion every day in my life. I always ask Santo Niño to answer my prayers.”

Mila Ecle grew up in Manila and moved to the United States as young woman with her husband who was in the Navy. Event coordinator of the Diocese’s Filipino Ministry, Ecle said, “Santo Niño teaches us that our love to the Lord should be innocent like a child’s. Whatever children have, they are happy.”

By Dana Szigeti, Special to the Florida Catholic, February 02, 2023 

This sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Unborn Christ Child was unveiled this morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. The sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz is making its way to Washington, DC and arrived in Orlando just in time for local pro-life events including Mass for Life, Jan. 20 at the Basilica.

On March 2, Ash Wednesday and the one-week anniversary of the unjustified Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a bas-relief icon of Our Lady of Kiev was placed in the narthex of the Basilica with a backdrop of the colors of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow. It has been said that the colors of the flag represent the landscape with its golden crops ready for harvest and the brilliance of the blue sky. We hold our brothers and sisters in our hearts, in our affection and in our prayers, many of which are Orthodox or Ukrainian Catholic. May the Lord watch over them in their peril. May Our Lady of Kiev protect them in all their trials.

Our present-day Rite of Election is usually celebrated by the diocesan bishop on the First Sunday of Lent to elect and enroll catechumens for Easter Sacraments. Its very ancient origins are reflected in the structure of the new Rite: the calling forward of the catechumens; the testimony of their godparents; and the enrollment of their names in the Book of the Elect.

In the early Church, it was no small thing to become a Christian, and the catechumenate lasted anywhere from three to seven years. This included intense catechesis and rigorous moral conversion, as well as building mutual trust in times of Roman persecution. Our earliest written account of a Rite of Election comes from the third century Roman priest and martyr, St. Hippolytus (d. 235 AD). Around 215 AD, he compiled the “Apostolic Traditions” in order to preserve ancient Roman Christian practices. Among those, he briefly chronicles a catechumenate (cf. XX, nn. 1-3). Prior to entering the catechumenate, which is to last no less than three years, candidates are rigorously examined about their moral lives and whether they have immoral political, social, or labor connections. Then, they are examined again regarding their Christian virtue and charity, and if found worthy, are inscribed for Easter Sacraments.

Our other ancient source for the Rite of Election comes from a fourth century Christian woman or nun known only as Egeria, who chronicles her pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Itinerarium Egeriae, c. 381-4 AD), including details about the liturgies she observed. In her chapter on the administration of Baptism, she observes that on the second day of Quadragesima (Lent), catechumens and their godparents would be brought before the bishop to be rigorously interrogated about their conversion, their exercise of virtues, and the vices they still had. If the bishop was satisfied with their progress, he would inscribe their names into the “Book of Competents” and they would spend the rest of Lent in special catechesis in preparation for Easter Sacraments. (cf. Itinerarium, VII, 1)

By Father Jeremiah Payne, Special to the Florida Catholic, March 08, 2022

Click Rites Bring Catechumens Closer to the Sacraments to read more.