Last Wednesday evening, I stood among 425 Catholic pilgrims from New Hampshire gathering around the Tourney fountain just outside old Quebec City at the start of our procession to the Cathedral de Notre Dame.
After our nine buses of pilgrims from the Diocese of Manchester arrived, we were preparing to take our first steps to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of the parish of Notre-Dame de Quebec, the “mother parish” of all the other parishes in Canada and the United States.
Our journey began with Bishop Peter A. Libasci leading the group of priests, seminarians, and other religious and lay people through the cobbled streets of old Quebec as the group recited the “Hail Mary” prayer. We proceeded to Notre-Dame Cathedral, where Cardinal Gerald C. Lacroix — who grew up in Manchester and graduated from Trinity High School in the city — joyfully greeted and welcomed us, and the pilgrimage officially began with a prayer service.
It was an impressive sight. Since our group was one of the largest to make a pilgrimage to Quebec City, roads leading up to Notre-Dame were blocked off as we filled the streets, an inspiring statement to the people of Quebec that the Catholic faith is alive and strong.
Certainly, one couldn’t miss the larger-than-life puppet figures that led our procession. They represented two of the founders of the Catholic Church in Canada, Marie de L’Incarnation and Francois de Laval, both recently recognized by Pope Francis as saints.
A pilgrimage is much more than a trip to a religious site; it is a journey of faith. As Bishop Libasci said, “In a very real way, a pilgrimage reminds us that we are always on a journey. While we travel through this life on earth, with its many turns, beauties, wonders and people, always we are on our way toward heaven.”
A pilgrim goes to a holy place to encounter God, to be in His presence, to worship Him and to open one’s heart to Him. The pilgrim offers different kinds of prayers: prayers of praise and adoration to the Lord for His goodness and holiness; prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings he or she has received; prayers of intentions for personal needs; prayers imploring the graces necessary in life; and prayers asking for forgiveness of sins committed.
Pilgrims on this journey had the unique opportunity to pass through the new Holy Door at Notre-Dame, the seventh Holy Door in the Catholic world (four are in Rome, one in Ars-sur-Formans, France, the other in Santiago de Compostela in Spain). A light shines through the cross on the Holy Door at Notre-Dame, illuminating the way for pilgrims as they approach the bronze image of Jesus with his arms outstretched in a welcoming gesture.
Passing through the Holy Door is a spiritual undertaking, which can be experienced by any person of good will. It is the chance to ask the Lord to help us transform in our lives that which must be changed, and then to advance with confidence and hope.
Cardinal Lacroix suggested that each pilgrim as they push open the door say: “Here I am Lord, poor, weak, a sinner ... but I trust in You!” Then, he said, as they labor to close the heavy door, they could say: “Lord, I shut the door of my heart to sin, to evil, to all that leads me away from You. I want to walk with You and follow You.”
Opened during the jubilee year, the door will be locked on Dec. 28 until the next time the Holy Doors in Rome are opened, in 2025.
We also visited the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, 20 miles east of Quebec City. That visit was a very personal experience for the many pilgrims who could trace their family histories to the Quebec province. Some remembered visiting the Basilica as children.
Nevertheless, this part of our pilgrimage was an extraordinary experience for all the pilgrims as we filled the magnificent halls of the Basilica and participated in a beautiful Mass with our very own Bishop as the celebrant. What a glorious moment!
But the pilgrimage was not all history lessons, prayers, and worship. There was a grand banquet where all the pilgrims gathered together to share a meal, stories and laughter. Throughout the three-day journey, there was a sense of family, community and fellowship.
On our final day, at the closing liturgy, Cardinal Lacroix gave an inspiring homily: “I hope you had an uplifting experience during this pilgrimage and will respond to the call to be a holy people. That is what this world needs. You are more than disciples and idle hands but a light of Christ.”
Lacroix encouraged the pilgrims to be missionary disciples, to go out into the world and to share their faith, their trust in God, and their joy in the Gospels. He asked us all to consider, “What sign of hope will you become?”
Kathryn Costa works in the Communications Office at the Diocese of Manchester.