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