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Long Island Catholics make pilgrimage to national shrine in D.C.

Thirty-five students from St. John the Baptist High

Thirty-five students from St. John the Baptist High School are going to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on September 23 and 24th, 2016, as part of a diocesan pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Many of them are shown in the West Islip school's library on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Bishop William Murphy and at least 3,000 people from Catholic parishes across Long Island are headed to the nation’s capital this weekend as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis — the largest pilgrimage that the Diocese of Rockville Centre has ever organized.

Dozens of buses will leave from churches in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Saturday morning for the trip to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The journey coincides with the one-year anniversary of the pope’s historic visit to Washington.

Making the pilgrimage are people from 70 parishes, 27 seminarians studying to become priests in the diocese and 400 high school students, said Sean Dolan, a diocesan spokesman.

Murphy will meet the pilgrims at the national shrine.

“People have really responded very positively to it,” Dolan said. “There’s a real hunger for something like this, I think.”

When the pope visited the United States and New York City, Dolan said, “there was a tremendous outpouring of love for the Holy Father . . . I think that has just kind of continued and built.”

Francis celebrated Mass at the national shrine on Sept. 23, 2015, after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House that morning. The next day, he became the first pope to address Congress, and then shared lunch with homeless people before leaving for visits to New York and Philadelphia.

The pontiff opened the Jubilee Year of Mercy in December. The observance, which ends Nov. 20, is designed to emphasize mercy and forgiveness as essential aspects of the Catholic faith, said the Rev. Mark Morozowich, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, whose campus is adjacent to the national shrine.

A contingent of 35 students from St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip plans to spend Friday carrying out the type of corporal works of mercy that the pope called for. They left for Washington on Thursday afternoon.

Richard Costa, a chaplain at the high school who is accompanying the group, said the students will visit the Armed Forces Retirement Home and a home for the elderly operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Pope Francis went to the sisters’ facility last year, a surprise stop that was not on his official schedule.

St. John the Baptist students will help serve meals to the veterans and the elderly, perform clean-up duties and sing religious songs, Costa said.

“The goal is always that they meet Christ through people that maybe society has cast aside, which in American society is typically the elderly,” Costa said. “And certainly we hear all the time about veterans and about how they are not taken care of.”

One student, Madison Pamlanye, 16, a junior from Ronkonkoma, said that going to some of the same places the pope visited will make it even more fulfilling.

“I’m just genuinely excited to go on a mission trip,” she said. “Not many kids get to say that you’re following in his footsteps, and I think it’s really cool that I’m going to be a part of that.”

The pilgrims from Long Island will take part in prayer services, Mass, confession and singing religious hymns at the shrine, which is the largest Catholic church in North America and also has been visited by St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and St. Teresa of Kolkata. Most plan to return home Saturday night.

As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis also asked dioceses throughout the world to designate churches where the faithful can make local pilgrimages, in part by walking through “holy doors.”

The Diocese of Rockville Centre has selected four churches: St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor, the Basilica Parish of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Southampton, and the Shrine of Our Lady in Manorville.


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