“The Christian pilgrimage must be accompanied with song, with manifestations of joy”. This is a good summary of the pilgrimage that the sisters from the Benelux region of the Province of Northern Europe, Maria Puerta de la Aurora, made in the first week of August. The trip was inspired when we heard that the pilgrimage in France would no longer be possible, and it was to be a preparation for the renewal of our Marian vow on the 8th of September.
In the original plan, we were going to walk from the Marian basilica of Maria Sterre der Zee (Mary, Star of the Sea) in Maastricht, the Netherlands to the cathedral of Maria Consolatrix Afflictorum (Mary, Help of the Afflicted) in Luxemburg. Along the way we would pass through the sanctuary of Banneux in Belgium where Our Lady appeared, thus covering the three participating countries of mission—the Benelux region.
It seems that God spared us by not making the original plan possible because of covid restrictions—because we were not in any way ready for the 143 kilometer trip through the hills and mountains! In the end, we walked 126 kilometers over 5 days through the flat southern part of the Netherlands from Maastricht to the cathedral of Den Bosch where the Zoete Moeder (Sweet Mother) is venerated.
As preparation (spiritual—not physical!) for the pilgrimage, we watched the conference from Fr. Miguel Fuentes about the role of the pilgrimage in the foundation of Europe (https://vozcatolica.com/el-camino-de-santiago-y-la-europa-cristiana/). It is a part of Catholic culture to travel and to offer the difficulties of the journey in order to remind ourselves that we are pilgrims here on earth, struggling and striving forward, until we reach our heavenly home. Europe in particular has been evangelized by the culture of the great pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, Rome, the Holy Land. In August, a small part of the Netherlands was evangelized by a small group of sisters walking in the heat, with a statue of Our Lady of Lujan on a makeshift backpack, praying the Rosary…and singing!
Our earthly pilgrimage must be accompanied by song—not only because it manifests joy, but because it eases the burden, it keeps the soul elevated to the heavenly things, it separates us from the difficulty of the present sacrifice and makes it bearable and even enjoyable! We were not physically prepared for so much walking—our life has been fairly sedentary, especially in the covid time. We were not really prepared for temperatures above 30 degrees C (a normal summer day in the Netherlands is 25 degrees C). And so, what did we do?…We prayed…and sang!
We walked through the South of The Netherlands and we found numerous Marian chapels along the way…what was more surprising was to see how well kept they were. And we sang at every chapel. It was incredible to see the reaction of the many people we met who appreciated what we were doing. One woman who saw us walking on the street began to sing the song to Maria Sterre der Zee along with us. She caught up to us later to ask for prayers for her sick husband. A pig farmer not only allowed us to take a well-needed break on his property, but he gave us ice cream and coffee. A man watering his plants with a hose took pity upon our hot faces and offered to sprinkle us with water.
We walked through large cities, small towns, in wooded areas and along the highway—thirteen sisters with backpacks and walking sticks, praying the Rosary or listening to meditations about Marian devotion, and people saw us, saw Mary and thought of God. We had conversations with people who struggled with the Church, people who think that Buddhist meditation is the same as Christian, we were stopped by two reporters of local newspapers who wanted to report what had passed through their town to their residents, and we entered the homes of many generous people who let this strange group use their restrooms and fill water bottles. And we sang as we walked.
We were helped not only along the way, but also from a team of three sisters who did the logistics for us. They drove us to our starting point each day (the ending point from the day before) and picked us up at the end of the day. They brought us lunch (so that we wouldn’t have to carry more weight) and made us dinner. And on the last evening we sang with them.
On the last day, we approached the city of Den Bosch with great joy…our pilgrimage was ending, the goal was in site! We saw the cathedral when we were still relatively far away and we prayed the last set of mysteries as we drew closer. We sang the Salve Regina in the streets of a city that once chose a poor statue of Mary in place of a rich ornate one to venerate as their “Sweet Mother”. The simple statue has since been clothed with different ornate mantels, but the sweet smile on the face of Our Lady gives an indication of why she was chosen as the Mother of Den Bosch. In the cathedral, tired after the days of pilgrimage, we sang one last song to end our pilgrimage before the image of our heavenly Mother.
The five days of journey were a great grace for each one of us who participated, and we hope also for those we carried on our long list of intentions and for those whom we met along the way. A pilgrimage allows one to renounce oneself and die in many ways. It allows us to “to take a step, one more step” in the constant process of our conversion. And it allows us to sing!