For more than three years, folks followed my travels coast-to-coast throughout the USA as I visited nine different Marian pilgrimage sites for my book, My Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena (A Marian Pilgrimage Across America). Along the way, I made various detours and side-trips to see places of grace that did not end up in the book yet certainly were share-worthy. With my blog and social media posts, and media interviews, I allowed my followers to peek into my little Marian Pilgrim world and clandestinely accompany me on my journeys.
Still, that wasn’t enough.
Since I started the project, I’ve had numerous requests from people who would like to take to the road and recreate my pilgrimage for themselves. The sad truth is that it’s not so easy to exactly replicate what I did. I made some of the trips by car and some by plane. I did some individually and grouped others together. I did it in fits and starts according to the seasons and in avoidance of natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding. I can give a list of locations, but I can’t give a road map and itinerary for the journey.
The good news is that I can tell you how to form your own Marian Pilgrimage using your own resources and starting right from home.
Here, in 10 easy steps is the
Beginner’s Guide to Doing Your Own Marian Pilgrimage
- PRAY! A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to a sacred destination, and this one is no different. Spend some time with our Lord and our Lady and ask for their blessing and guidance.
- ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS If you’re going it alone, do this solo. But, if you’re going as a family, then talk about it together. You need to be all in, or your excursion will be miserable. Why do you want to do this? What do you hope to gain? What are you willing to invest (spiritually, emotionally, and tangibly) in this pilgrimage?
- CONDUCT RESEARCH An internet search will bring up countless possibilities of destinations. Two of my favorite sites are The Catholic Travel Guide and Catholic Pilgrimage Sites. Browse, ponder, and see what catches your interest and your spirit.
- SET (REALISTIC) GOALS If you’re fortunate enough to be able to plan a weeks-long adventure, then do it! If not, don’t despair! Remember that I did my Marian Pilgrimage in fits and starts – you can, too. Perhaps you go for a few days or a long weekend to one or two sites. Or, it might be better for you to plan a series of road trips. You still can carry on that pilgrimage spirit in between traveling by referring back to your photos and journals, praying the same prayers you prayed on the journey, and prayerfully anticipating the next leg of your pilgrimage. Novenas don’t always have to be done in nine days – they can be extended over time!
- CHOOSE In all likelihood, you’ll not be able to travel coast-to-coast as I did. Not a problem! Consider places of grace that are nearby. You’ll be amazed at how many Marian sites there are in just a small radius around your home! Think creatively! Even if there aren’t any major Marian shrines in your area, I can guarantee there are places dedicated to Mary that are beautiful, meaningful, and filled with grace. Don’t overlook the obvious! Many parish churches, convents, seminaries, and retreat centers have chapels or other spots designated for Marian devotion. All of them have a unique history and legacy that has been passed on from their founders – fascinating fodder for a pilgrim’s visit! Let others know you’re on the hunt for special Mary places. You’ll be surprised by what possibilities pop up for you! Recently, I was at a friend’s house for Sunday Brunch after Mass when her son told me about a Marian grotto from the 1800s that was tucked away in the back of a little parish cemetery. You can bet I added it to my “To Discover List” for future journeys.
- PLAN YOUR TRIP(S) Now that you’ve got your list of nine places of grace to visit, make plans for how and when you’ll visit them.
- PACK THE ESSENTIALS Of course you need the day-to-day stuff (don’t forget your toothbrush if it’s an overnighter!). But you also will need a notebook and pens to journal or take notes as you go, a rosary, favorite prayer book, and backpack or pouch to store mementos you gather along the way. Holy water is a good idea as well. Take a camera or a phone with a decent camera. You’ll want to keep a visual record of your pilgrimage. Here’s a little trick I learned years ago when I was traveling through the Holy Land with a group of journalists. When you arrive at a destination, first take a picture of identifying signs, plaques, corner stones or documentation that signal the location. Then go ahead and take all the touristy shots you want! The identifying photos will help you remember later on which shots belong to which sites.
- PROCEED WITH EYES AND MIND WIDE OPEN This was the best part of my Marian Pilgrimage Across America! I kept my radar going for other sites along the way that would be worth visiting. It’s pretty common for the locals to steer you toward way-cool places in the area that you may not have otherwise known about. Follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and pursue those spontaneous detours – I promise you won’t regret it. I didn’t!
- SAVOR THE EXPERIENCES Give yourself time, both during and after your pilgrimage, to savor and digest all of the experiences and impressions that you’ve taken in while on pilgrimage. God has a distinct message for you in all this; don’t miss out on it.
- INCLUDE SOME FUN This is mostly for families. If you’ve got kids in tow, you need to make sure you do some fun things while on pilgrimage or your young’uns will resent it rather than appreciate it. Hint: Add some spiritual detours to your family vacation. Find out what sites are on the way or in the area you’ll be staying and visit them.
I wrote My Queen, My Mother so that my readers could become aware of some of the most beautiful, historical, and at the same time lesser-known Marian pilgrimage sites in our amazing country. My hope is that you’ll visit as many of them as you are able. Even more, I hope that you’ll go on pilgrimage for yourself to discover and uncover the places where our Lady touches the earth with her grace and holiness. She’s there, waiting for you to come visit her. Go!
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