BLOOMFIELD – When a pilgrimage for the sick to the Shrine of Divine Mercy last year failed to attract many Hispanics, organizers decided to set aside a day of prayer for Spanish-speaking people suffering from illness or infirmity.
On Aug. 29, the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary hosted nearly 400 Hartford-area pilgrims at the first Spanish-language Pilgrimage of the Sick of the Hispanic community in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
A capacity crowd in the chapel heard Archbishop Leonard P. Blair’s healing message that the church offers solidarity in faith and power in prayer.
Welcoming the pilgrims to the Peregrinación Para Los Enfermos, Father José Mercado, director of the Archdiocese of Hartford Office for Hispanic Ministries, said the purpose was to give the infirm in either body or spirit a local opportunity within the Hispanic community to share a faith and healing experience as they came closer to God.
Sponsored by the Order of Malta in collaboration with the Secular Order of the Servants of Mary, Cursillo Movement, Pope John XXIII Movement and Hispanic Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the event ran from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and was free, with lunch provided.
Highlights included the anointing of the sick and the Mass, celebrated in Spanish by Archbishop Blair, who also delivered the homily in Spanish.
J.P. van Rooy, a Knight of Malta and former Hospitaller for the Hartford region, said the idea for a Hispanic pilgrimage sprang up after last year’s Malta-sponsored bus pilgrimage to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. He and others recognized that although the four-hour round-trip bus event was well-attended, it attracted few Hispanics.
The plan for the local Hispanic pilgrimage quickly took shape with approval from Archbishop Blair, who Mr. van Rooy described as having a “spark in his eyes” at the prospect of it.
On the day of the event, volunteers from the sponsoring organizations donned bright yellow shirts that served as beacons for those needing assistance. The printing on some of them, bearing the words “Pilgrimage of the Sick,” was about the only English to be seen or heard all day. The volunteers coordinated everything from check-in to facilitating reconciliation and directing some of the many priests to pilgrims requesting the solemn rite of anointing.
Early arrivals enjoyed contemporary music before opening remarks, testimony, reflection and meditation. A long silence then prevailed in the packed chapel before pilgrims and caregivers lined up for confession.
Victor Bonce, of St. Mary Parish in New Britain, attended at the suggestion of a family member active in the Sisters of Mary. The cancer survivor was seeking “peace within myself,” saying that though facing “little setbacks,” he knows that “[God’s] the one who’s going to help me by showing me the steps along the way.”
Orlando Orellana, a father of two who described himself as healthy, is from St. Peter Parish in Torrington and is associated with the Pope John XXIII movement. He said he was impressed by the morning prayer, and that he will promote within his family and parish the message that we should ask God for help not just for our bodies but also for our spirits.
A group of teens attended from Youth in Action with Christ at St. Augustine/St. Ann in Hartford.
Angel Gonzales, 15, from St. Anne-Immaculate Conception in Hartford, said he enjoyed the pilgrimage. Describing himself as being unlike teens who prefer playing video games, he said he knows helping people is the right thing to do. He added that elderly or sick people can help you with advice.
Angel was there with Andrea Rivera, 18; Gabriel Rivera, 13; and Kristian Rivera, 17; along with their mother, Clarigsa Pena. Ms. Pena said activities like the pilgrimage are “good for the kids to see what the church is doing to help them reach out to others.”
Sister Maria Belen of the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima, a teacher and counselor at St. Augustine’s School in Hartford, was inspired by the day’s program and said it left her feeling more able to get closer to those in need because in those people is God, Christ, who has empowered them with grace in their suffering.
The afternoon consisted of prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and closing presentations by the separate movements.
Speaking with the Transcript during the midday break, Dr. Pauline Olsen, a Dame of Malta and Hospitaller of the Hartford Region of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta, said, “I am overwhelmed by the group here today. This is the first [Spanish] pilgrimage for the sick that we have had, and I hope that it will be followed up with many others.” Dr. Olsen, retired from practice, continues to provide service at the Malta House of Care mobile medical clinic in Hartford.
Ten of the sponsoring Knights and Dames of Malta attended the pilgrimage.
The Order of Malta The Order of Malta also sponsored its second annual Lourdes in a Day Pilgrimage on Sept. 12, this year at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary. The first was at the Shrine of Divine Mercy.