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TOM SWANN CATHOLIC PILGRIMAGE
I have returned from a Catholic pilgrimage to visit holy shrines in three European countries. Prior to the start of this pilgrimage I made an attempt to prepare myself spiritually. This included church attendance, confession, daily prayer, daily Bible reading, sharing at AA meetings, receiving prayer intentions from others and reciting the rosary. One week before the trip I attended a presentation by Ivanka who is one of the seers from Medjugorje.
I began my trip on Thursday November 4 departing Palm Springs, CA for Newark, New Jersey. In Newark I met some of the other members of the tour which was organized by Regina Tours. There were 24 pilgrims and all but about three were either Filipino or Puerto Rican. The majority of the pilgrims were women from the San Fernando Valley by Los Angeles. I have not been to Europe since I served in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1980.
I spent a total of ten nights and eleven days on the pilgrimage. There were two nights in Fatima Portugal, three nights in Lourdes France, two nights in Madrid Spain and one night each in Burgos Spain and Zaragoza Spain. One night (November 4) was a seven hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
This was indeed a pilgrimage. We prayed the rosary almost every day and we began each day with a selection from the Morning Prayer. I attended Mass three times during the eleven days.
Fatima Morning Offering
I arrived at Lisbon Airport very early Friday morning November 5. Elaina our tour guide met me at the airport. Our group boarded a bus that would be our “home” as we traveled through Portugal, Spain, France and then back to Spain again. The weather was cool and I saw snow in France. Each day both morning breakfast and dinner were held in the Five-Star hotels that we stayed in during the ten nights. Lunch was often at a roadside cafeteria. I sat in the first row of the bus behind the driver and saw a lot of the countryside.
The other pilgrims called me “Mr. Tom” and I wish to say I was quite well liked by everyone. The tour guide offered me great assistance in walking and going up and down steps. The other pilgrims also helped me a great deal. Meggie was a high school student and she took pictures for me with my camera.
On Friday November 5 we saw the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua. At this church we held our first Mass. Our priest was from Dearborn Michigan. We also visited another church where St. Anthony was baptized. St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things.
He died in Italy.
After leaving Lisbon we traveled toward Fatima. On the way we visited the town of Santarem. Here we saw the “bleeding host” in St. Stephen’s Church. Why is this miracle from the 13th century important?
The Catholic Church believes the Priest transforms the bread and wine at every Mass into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Wikipedia shares that Catholics view the bread and wine “as the whole Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity…This actual transformation, change or conversion of the reality, while the appearances remain unaltered – not the process or manner by which the transformation comes about, since all agree that this occurs "in a way surpassing understanding" has been called transubstantiation. The bleeding host sheds some evidence that the bread is the actual body of Christ. Please see this web page:
That afternoon we arrived in Fatima. The name Fatima dates back to when the Moors from North Africa occupied Portugal. Fatima was the name of Moslem prophet Mohammed’s daughter. The message of Our Lady of Fatima is pray the rosary, penance and peace.
The Moors once occupied Portugal. The village of Fatima was given the Islamic name of the well-loved Princess of the nearby Castle of Ourem. She died at an early age after marrying the Count of Ourem and converting to Catholicism. Baptized with the Christian name of Oureana, she was named at birth "Fatima," like many other Moslem girls, in honor of the daughter of Mohammed. Of his daughter, Fatima, the founder of Islam, Mohammed, said: "She has the highest place in heaven after the Virgin Mary."
In Fatima I visited the home of Lucia as well as the home of Jacinta and Francisco. I saw the bed where Francisco died. I saw the well where the Angel of Peace appeared to the three children. Here I met the 90 year-old niece of Lucia. I went near the location of the August apparition of Mary. I saw the original graves of Jacinta and Francisco before their bodies were moved to the Basilica. I also saw the church where Lucia received her First Communion.
Lucia’s First Confession: (Said by Priest to Lucia)
Prior to my departure on this trip I received several prayer intentions from friends. These intentions were placed in unmarked sealed envelopes. On Saturday November 6 I attended Mass at the Fatima Chapel. This chapel is built where the Virgin Mary appeared to three children. Prior to Mass I waited for the Priest to come toward the chapel. I gave him the petitions. I believe the petitions were left at the altar.
At Fatima some people pray for healing or the strength to endure suffering. We can offer up our suffering as a sacrifice to God. St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:24
Father Rochelle of EWTN pointed out that Jesus suffered in many ways during his passion. Christ had loss of blood and a pierced heart. He suffocated to death because when your body hangs from a cross (feet or body not firm) you slowly lose the ability to open and close your lungs due to gravity. Christ's skin was bruised and ripped open. He had broken bones because of the nails in his arms. When he fell while carrying the cross he fractured a knee according to the Holy Shroud of Turin Italy.
Jesus had no disease when he was crucified. So according to St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians we are to offer up as a sacrifice our own illnesses to complete what is lacking so we can be united with Christ’s suffering. Jesus did not die of cancer so it is lacking. So cancer patients can add their affliction as a sacrifice to those suffered by Jesus. I add my blindness, injured hand and other illnesses to the afflictions Christ experienced on the cross. I should do this "for the sake of his body, which is the church" as a testimony or good example for members of the church who may grow in their faith by my witness. Please keep in mind we are not replacing Christ on the cross for salvation. We are adding our afflictions to Jesus act of redemption.
Our Lady of Fatima showed the children a glimpse of souls suffering in hell. She said that God is greatly offended by the indifference people have toward Him. Our Lady asked the children to sacrifice dancing and flute playing and instead pray the rosary for the conversion of lost sinners. Francisco sacrificed for the sake of lost souls by tying a belt tightly around his waist so he would have discomfort in his sleep. Jesus asked his followers to take up their cross and follow him. That meant a rock in the desert would be your pillow since Jesus did not own a home. Each one of us will experience death just like Jesus before we receive eternal life.
After Mass my Medjugorje rosary was blessed by the Priest. I purchased a rosary medal for my grotto to Our Lady of Fatima that is located in my home. I also purchased a rosary requested by Pat Martin.
The message of the Fatima Mass is based on the few words of Mary contained in the Bible. The Priest remarked that at the wedding fest at Cana where Jesus performed his first public miracle Mary told the workers ““Do whatever he tells you”. This statement sheds light on Mary’s role in our salvation. She is always encouraging us to follow and be obedient to the will of Christ.
On Sunday morning November 7 we traveled by bus to Burgos Spain. Burgos has the highest elevation of any Spanish city. This city has an important history because it is on the Medieval pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Santiago is the burial place of the Apostle James. James spread the news of Jesus Christ to the Iberian Peninsula. Later James returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded by King Herod. Wikipedia shares,”After James' death in Jerusalem his disciples shipped his body to Spain to be buried in what is now Santiago. While James body was on the voyage “off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops. The pilgrimage to the burial place of St. James dates back to the “8th century, in the time of the Kingdom of Asturias. The pilgrimage to the shrine became the most renowned medieval pilgrimage”.
My recent Catholic pilgrimage enabled me to see some of the largest shrines where the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared. Many people do not believe in the Marian apparitions. I have believed in them since I first heard about the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1979. Angels appeared and spoke to people during Biblical times and we have Marian apparitions and Angel visitations in our time. It seems that many of the people who do not believe in the Virgin Mary’s apparitions are like the doubting Saint Thomas. Unless they personally are a witness to a Marian apparition they do not believe they are actually taking place.
Perhaps the conclusion penned by Franz Werfel in his popular novel, “Song of Bernadette”, says it best: "For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible. For those who believe, no explanation is necessary”.
I am grateful God has given me sufficient grace to believe in Jesus Christ. The apparitions of Mary seem to indicate that God sent His son to shed his own blood to redeem our souls and now Jesus is sending His Mother so we will believe. It seems God will not give up trying to attract our faith and devotion to His will. There is an endless amount of love and grace God offers to us. Our tour guide shared this phrase of hope:
“Our sins are grains of sand compared to the mountain of God’s grace”.
After one night in Burgos we traveled by bus to France. The weather was cold and I saw snow. We spent three nights in Lourdes (November 8-10). I attended Mass on Tuesday November 9. The Priest commented on Ezekiel 47 because it has to do with healing water of Christ which is part of the Lourdes mystery. In this passage please note the river flows from the right side of the temple. The church is the body of Christ and on Calvary water and blood poured from His right side. Please note the fruit trees in this prophecy of Ezekiel will bear fruit every month when they receive the water flowing from the temple.
Ezekiel 47 (New International Version)
The River from the Temple
At Lourdes Mary put her finger in the ground and a small trickle of water began to flow. Eventually this became a river. Mary told Bernadette to bathe in the water. Over the years there have been many miraculous healings when people bathed in the Lourdes water. On Tuesday November 9 I got in the bath. These are tubs filled with Lourdes water in private rooms. There is no fee to use the baths. You completely undress and the attendants place a wet towel around your waist. The water was cold and I sat down in the tub. The water came all the way up to my neck. The temperature in Lourdes was around 50 degrees and the water comes right out of the mountain so I assume the water temperature was around 50 degrees or colder. Amazingly I had no hesitation to get in the tub and I did not think of the cold which is a miracle in itself. I recited the Hail Mary and a Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes. While in the tub I thought about Sister Lucy’s poor health, my late Father, Rod Mendoza, others and my own personal request for healing. After about a minute I stood up and kissed a statue of the Virgin Mary. I got out of the tub and did not need a towel to dry. I felt very warm. The fact that your body dries instantly so you do not need a towel is part of the miracle of the Lourdes water. As I left the bath I shouted I felt like I had a miraculous healing. I expected my pilgrimage to produce a life changing phenomena and it had. As I walked toward the hotel I filled a plastic bottle with Lourdes water for drinking.
On Wednesday November 10 I was in the shower in my hotel room and I slipped and fell with one leg in the tub and one leg on the bathroom floor. My thigh scraped along the glass shower door. I checked to see if I had been cut and if I was bleeding or not. By God’s grace or the help of Our Mother the Virgin Mary I was not injured. I went with the tour guide in the rain to the grotto to touch the walls of the cave where Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette. I prayed for many people and thanked Mary that I was not injured. Later in the afternoon I went to see the home where Bernadette was born and lived. Her home is part of a mill that was powered by water to grind wheat into flour.
Immaculate Mary - Lourdes Hymn
Immaculate Mary, thy praises we sing;
Ave, ave, ava Maria
In heaven the blessed thy glory proclaim;
Ave, ave, ave Maria.
Thy name is our power, thy virtues our light,
Ave, ave, ave Maria.
We pray for our mother, the Church upon earth;
Ave, ave, ave Maria.
On Thursday November 11 (Veteran’s Day) we left Lourdes France and returned to Spain. We stayed one night in Zaragoza which was founded by the Romans. Zaragoza is famous for the apparition of Mary to Saint James. This apparition is called “Our Lady of Pillar”. A pillar is a stone column used to support the roof of buildings.
James was one of the three disciples that was closest to Jesus and went up the mountain for the transfiguration of Jesus. He also prayed with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had a special name for James and John as shown in the New Testament.
“And James the [son] of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder”.
James was the first disciple to be killed. (Acts 12) Here below is the story of the pillar:
“The tradition tells us that seven years after the death of Jesus, on January 2, 40 A.D., The Apostle St. James the Elder, brother of St. John, sat tired and disappointed by the bank of the Ebro River in what is now Zaragoza, Spain. The people of the Roman province of Hispania (Spain/Iberian Peninsula) were not open and receptive to the Good News of Jesus and St. James was ready to give up his efforts to evangelize them. On that January day the Blessed Virgin Mary, still living in Palestine, appeared to James atop a column or pillar of stone. With encouraging words, she assured him that the people of Hispania would become Christians and that their faith would be as strong and durable as the pillar on which she stood. To remember the visit and promise of the Virgin Mary, the first Marian shrine was built around the pillar. And James began to convert the pagans of early Spain.
Significant miracle: During the Civil War of the 1930s, two aerial bombs were dropped on the shrine church, but neither exploded. Those bombs now hang on the shrine wall”.
See this web page:
At the back of the pillar you can smell roses. This is a natural smell coming from the pillar and is said to be the perfume of the Virgin Mary. See this video:
It is interesting how roses are part of several Marian apparitions. At Lourdes the Virgin Mary apparition includes three yellow roses which were not supposed to bloom in Winter. The Virgin of Guadalupe apparition in Mexico has the red roses that grow in the Castilian part of Spain. They also miraculously bloomed in December. Our Lady of Pillar has a rose fragrance.
I saw three places where Mary appeared on this pilgrimage. During my military career I traveled to Rome where I was blessed by Pope John Paul II on Sunday December 10, 1978. There I visited another place where Mary appeared to stop a would be assassin of Pope Pius XII in 1947. “Our Lady of the Revelation” appeared at the Three Fountains in Rome. I plan to visit the church where the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico soon.
We spent one night in Zaragoza. On November 12 we traveled by bus to Madrid Spain. We spent two nights in Madrid, Friday November 12 and Saturday November 13. I suggested and the group agreed to attend a performance of Flamenco dancing which has its roots with the Gypsies many years ago.
I have visited Spain in the military and on this Catholic pilgrimage. I have now visited Spain’s five largest cities. They are Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Burgos and Zaragoza.
I departed Madrid on Sunday November 14. I felt a calmness and peace that I have not experienced in a long time while on this Catholic pilgrimage. There were many tests of my faith because I am blind and had no companion with me. I had to trust God that I would have the stamina to take this tour, the money to pay for the trip and safety in foreign countries. My biggest concern was my poor vision and there were a few things like night processions in Fatima and Lourdes that I knew I could not do safely. I did in fact see and do all of the things that were important to me.
I feel closer to God and have a greater appreciation for the church that has maintained these shrines and kept this important history of the apparitions. The pilgrimage has made a life changing phenomena in my life. I feel spiritual growth and a healing. I highly recommend that you participate in a spiritual pilgrimage somewhere soon.
A pilgrimage is different than a vacation tour. I did not consume alcohol on this pilgrimage. This was a trip devoted to learning, spiritual growth and healing. The sacrifices I made in finances, time and energy to participate is penance for my sins and for the conversion of others to Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary wants to be our Mother and she is the Mother of the church. This is because Christ is the body of the Church and Mary is His Mother.
I can report one miraculous healing thus far from the prayer petitions I submitted in Fatima. Please share with me if you received any special graces or healings or improvements in your soul from this pilgrimage. I feel blessed to offer prayers for your petitions.
I wish to thank you so much for your prayers for the trip’s success. Your prayers were answered. So I suggest we keep praying because it really works.
Thanks for reading and sharing with others.
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