November 4, 2023

Seventy-five Kilometers to the National Shrine of Aparecida

Sr. M. Rebeka Makalski

Hearts Afire and Feet Underway

Twenty-six Sisters Make a Pilgrimage of Seventy-five Kilometers
to the National Shrine of Aparecida, Brazil

“How often in the history of the world have not small and insignificant beginnings been the source of the great and greatest accomplishments? Why could that not hold true also in our case? Whoever knows the history of our sodality will have no trouble believing that Divine Providence has something special in store for it.“[i]

This was our experience when the idea of making a pilgrimage for religious vocations came to us and we went on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil.

Hearts afire and feet underway

Impelled by the motto of the Year of Vocations in Brazil “Corações ardentes, pés a caminho (Hearts Afire, Feet Underway)” (See Lk 24, 32-33), we were motivated to set out on foot and to bring sacrifices of love–as many people do—when they come to Marian places of pilgrimage in our country. We had the idea that some sisters would make a pilgrimage by foot to ask the Mother of God to send vocations to the whole Church and especially to our institute, the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. But when this proposal was made known to the sisters of the province, many hearts were kindled by the idea and even older sisters wanted to participate.

We organized the route, the team that would accompany the pilgrims, and physical conditioning. There were two large groups: the feet underway (the sisters who did all three days by foot or those who did only the last 15 kilometers by foot) and the hearts afire group (the sisters who spiritually made the pilgrimage with many prayers and contributions to the capital of grace).

Step after step in adoration, reparation, thanksgiving, and petition  

The pilgrimage began in the city of Caçapava/SP, which is 75 kilometers from Aparecida. The whole way, step by step was characterized by many contributions to the capital of grace, the unity of the sisters, and mutual concern. While our feet moved in the direction of the national shrine, we made a pilgrimage in our heart and renewed our vocation. Each day of the pilgrimage had a theme: reparation, gratitude, or petition.

Much support and much encouragement

There was also much solidarity and kindness from the members of the Schoenstatt Apostolate of the Pilgrim MTA who spared no effort throughout the trip to offer us water, fruit, food, and support on the journey, doing so with a supernatural joy that only those who give their hearts to God and the Blessed Mother can have. They waited for the arrival of the sisters with joy, songs, and indications of solidarity. At some of the stations we held Eucharistic Adoration in front of the tabernacle.

We were impressed likewise by the support and encouragement we received from the people who passed us by. Cars honked their horns; people said motivating things and reminded us that we were not underway alone. The Mother of God was with us and gave us strength each step of the way. We felt how we could truly be a real presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the midst of the city:

Like the Blessed Virgin Mary on the way to Elizabeth.

Personal impressions of some of the sisters:

For me personally, this journey was a time of very much grace during which God the Father and the Mother of God manifested themselves in our lives. What impressed me most was our joy, our unity, our commitment to really carry out this pilgrimage. I think, also, that the Blessed Mother and the Father were with us and prepared this journey for us. (Sister M. Alessandra Sissa)

It was moving to experience the generosity, the gifts, and the joy of the volunteers. They and God Himself spoiled us with shade, cool air, rain, sunshine, rainbows, shelter, and the fact that we all arrived at our destination in good health. Everything was a great experience of grace and mercy! Being the bearers of many intentions gave us the strength to overcome pain and fatigue and to move forward with confidence! The conversations we had with one another along the way were an experience of family. Honestly speaking, what was most beautiful for me was not reaching the finish line, but the whole journey! I really appreciate this experience, and if the Father allows it, I will gladly participate again if I ever have the opportunity! (Sister M. Ana Paula Ramos Hipólito)

It was a very remarkable and profound experience for our group which consisted of a family of mature women. Much more than what each individual wanted was the good of the group. How many things everyone had to leave behind in order to move on … The caring glance for the other, the readiness to help–even if someone didn’t express a need. It was a journey in which each one followed the steps of the other. This really impressed me! For me, it had much in common with the “synodality” the Church is aspiring to! We were on a journey, but each one was interested in the others. We were a community that was guided by an ideal, and therefore the fundamental tone was respect and joy. (Sister M. Isabel Machado).

I think we were really a group of witnesses—witnesses to faith, prayer, sacrifice, and love. For me, the journey consisted of two journeys: one was the journey by foot and the other was the journey we walked inwardly, letting ourselves be touched by grace and renewing the first love for our own vocation. (Sister M. Nilza P. da Silva)

I believe that this pilgrimage has revealed an even greater commitment to one’s vocation and to new vocations! A supernatural atmosphere was created: sacrifice, prayer and sisterly care that knew no bounds. There was mutual help, encouragement, and support. We believed in one another. This is how we gained the strength to succeed together.

The laity and consecrated persons who received us so cordially at the different places witnessed to the love and care of God’s providence; God revealed how much he needs us, in the places where we work and have a mission, as instruments in the hands of Blessed Mother.

I am grateful that I could have this experience which will remain in our hearts and in the history of our province!  The future will reveal the blessings of this holy time! (Sister M. Carmem Zenovello)

Everything was given to the Blessed Mother

When we arrived at the shrine of the Mother of Aparecida, some sisters, and our provincial superior, Sister M. Silvia Regina Formagio, and Father Bernd Biberger, our General Director, were there to welcome us. Together we went before Our Lady of Aparecida and entrusted to her our intentions and our petition for vocations. We were grateful for the many eager hearts that set out to take the Pilgrim MTA to other families.

May our dear Blessed Mother accept all of our gifts
and give our family and the whole Church numerous vocations.

[1] Kentenich, Joseph. First Founding Document. October 18, 1914.