The group departed early morning July 17 on two Lamers motor coaches. Their first stop was Hubertus, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, home of the state’s most visited Marian shrine known simply as “Holy Hill.”
During the bus ride to Hubertus, pilgrims recited the rosary and watched a video on the history of the basilica. They learned that more than 500,000 people from around the world visit the national shrine every year and that it was elevated to the status of minor basilica in 2006. The shrine sits on 435 acres of land, high atop a hill in Washington County. Its twin spires can be seen for miles in the rural countryside.
Mass at Holy Hill
Upon arrival, pilgrims made their way up to the recently remodeled upper church for Mass. Bishop Ricken was celebrant and homilist. He was joined by Carmelite Fr. Don Brick, shrine rector, and Carmelite Fr. Cyril Guise, shrine minister. In his homily, Bishop Ricken welcomed all pilgrims on their shared journey of faith.
“To begin our journey today from Green Bay to Holy Hill is a unique privilege, a unique blessing,” he said. “I am indeed very grateful to Fr. Don and to Fr. Cyril and to the community of Carmelites … who have welcomed us so warmly and in such a friendly manner.”
Bishop Ricken alluded to the day’s feast of Carmelite martyrs from France, the Martyrs of Compiègne, who sacrificed their lives in 1794 during the French revolution.
“Their witness — these many hundreds of years later — bears courage to us as we sometimes now, as a society, face dictates that we must not and cannot agree with,” said Bishop Ricken. The challenge for Catholics today, he said, is to stand up for their faith and not waver or bow to societal pressures that contradict church teaching.
“Brothers and sisters, the days of timidity are over. The days of hiding your Catholic faith under the bushel basket are over,” he said. “And so you and I need to pray madly and voraciously for those members of our families and friends and work associates who are drifting off to hell and nary a word is being said.”
Praying and working to bring others back to the church is part of the new evangelization, said Bishop Ricken. “That’s what Pope Francis is challenging us to do — not to be so self-referential, or worried about ourselves, but rather moving out from ourselves to carry the good news and bring souls back to Christ.”
Following Mass, Fr. Brick gave the pilgrims a 20-minute presentation on the history and features of the shrine, including the architecture of the neo-Romanesque upper church built in 1926, and the adjacent shrine chapel. Pilgrims then moved to the shrine café for lunch, followed by walking tours of the shrine grounds. At 2:30 p.m. they departed for Onalaska, where they stopped at North Country Steak Buffet for dinner and checked into the Stoney Creek Inn.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine
After breakfast July 18, pilgrims boarded buses and viewed a video of their next stop: the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse.
Like the Marian shrine on Holy Hill, the La Crosse shrine — named in honor of the Blessed Mother, who appeared on a hill outside of Mexico City to St. Juan Diego in 1531 — is nestled in the wooded countryside. The shrine, established by Cardinal Raymond Burke, who served as bishop of La Crosse from 1995 to 2004, broke ground in 2001. On July 31, 2008, Cardinal Burke, at the time archbishop of St. Louis, dedicated the shrine’s central structure, the shrine church.
The shrine sits on approximately 100 acres and includes a pilgrim center, the Mother of Good Counsel Votive Candle Chapel, the shrine church, outdoor Stations of the Cross and a memorial to the unborn.
Pilgrims met with Greg Marco, the shrine’s pilgrimage coordinator, inside the shrine church. He gave a presentation on the history and features of the La Crosse shrine, particularly the art and architecture inside the shrine church.
Pilgrims then had time to recite the rosary and participate in the sacrament of reconciliation. Members of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, who staff the shrine, served as confessors.
A morning Mass was celebrated by Bishop Ricken.
In his homily, Bishop Ricken said that Our Lady of Guadalupe is known as the star of the new evangelization. “As you look into the heavens, Mary shines forth as an exemplar to all of us,” he said.
Bishop Ricken returned to the theme of cultural challenges facing the church.
“In our day, when the whole culture is so filled with iconic images, through TV, Internet, apps, iPhone, etc., the power of the picture and the beautiful is very appealing,” he said. Entering a stunning church such as the Guadalupe shrine, “leads one to heavenly thoughts and the architects of old,” said Bishop Ricken.
Traditional church architecture and liturgical art “remind us that we are only temporarily here,” he said. In the Middle Ages, the construction of regal cathedrals “adorned with the very best that was available in those days” provided a glimpse of heaven, explained Bishop Ricken.
“When people were going through plagues of one kind or another, they came into a beautiful place, like a church. … It was preparation for heaven and the heavenly city Jerusalem,” he said. “So today, in the spirit of the new evangelization, beauty still speaks and grabs a hold of us.”
Reflecting on Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said that her 16th-century apparitions to the peasant farmer, Juan Diego, brought about the conversion of many non-believers. “She came as a simple, humble maiden with all of the symbols that spoke to the Aztec Indian,” he said. “So she evangelized an entire country in a matter of a few years.”
In reference to the day’s Gospel (Mt 11:28-30), Bishop Ricken said that during their pilgrimage, the group should strive “to do exactly what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel: ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.’
“Our youth desperately need to know Jesus as the one who lifts them up,” he said. By asking the Blessed Mother to intercede on their behalf, he said pilgrims can take their “little sacrifices” experienced during the three days and “offer them up for those who don’t know Jesus, don’t know the Blessed Mother.”
Lunch in the shrine church’s lower level and free time visiting the shrine grounds followed Mass.
In an interview, Marco said that the Year of Faith has seen an increase in pilgrims at the La Crosse shrine. “Last year we had just under 64,000 people who came. This year I think we’re going to surpass that,” he said, noting that the number of visitors is around 60,000.
Marco, a member of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, has worked at the shrine for seven years.
“The beauty of this place and what it means to people, the reasons people come here … and to be kind of a help for them, to give them simple information about Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego or about the shrine itself, these are very small things that I do. But for the people who are coming, it means a great deal. I’d say humbled is the best way I describe about working here,” he said.
Pilgrims then traveled to Vernon Vineyards in Viroqua, where they enjoyed wine tasting and a catered dinner. The day ended back at Stoney Creek Inn.
Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help
On the final day of travel, the group departed Onalaska and arrived at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help shortly after noon. The three and one-half hour bus ride provided opportunities for rosary recitation, viewing a video of the Champion shrine’s history and sharing personal stories about how the pilgrimage experience was deepening their faith lives.
Upon arrival in Champion, the group enjoyed a catered lunch, then moved into the shrine chapel for a presentation by Simon Tipps, son of longtime shrine caretakers Karen and Steve Tipps, followed by a tour of the apparition site and shrine grounds.
Free time provided opportunities for prayer and the sacrament of reconciliation. Joined by the shrine’s rector and chaplain, Fathers of Mercy Peter Stryker and James Walling, Bishop Ricken celebrated a 4 p.m. Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Ricken said that, as the pilgrimage was nearing an end, the three-day experience was inspiring.
“The shrines have been beautiful. Each place was filled with wonderful experiences for us,” he said, “but … there’s no place like home. It’s a joy to be back at our own shrine, where Mary appeared over 150 years ago.”
He called it a blessing for the diocese and for the country to be the home of North America’s only approved Marian apparition. Part of the message of Adele Brise, to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in 1859, was the conversion of sinners, Bishop Ricken said.
“We pray for the conversion of sinners within our own family, within ourselves, that we become more and more of the light that might shine and penetrate the darkness and that we also teach the children the faith.”
In the future, he said the shrine will continue to be an instrument for finding ways to instruct youth in the faith “the way Adele did.”
“Not just a place for prayer and healing, which it is, but also to engage … our children in the ways of the faith, especially teaching them to pray, to come to know Jesus, the Blessed Mother, to come to know the saints and to feel an ease in approaching these sacred mysteries and these sacred places.”
Pilgrims returned to Green Bay at 5:30 p.m. In written comments, many of them said the pilgrimage was spiritually uplifting.
“I liked watching the movies before we got to the shrines,” said Cindy Herm. “I liked the opportunity to hear bishop at Mass and the stories on the bus.”
“This was the perfect way to usher in the new evangelization – by going to Mary,” wrote one unidentified pilgrim. “We need to ask her help to show us the way back to her son Jesus.”