By Shari Curran
Special to The Witness
“Happy are the people whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:6
LANSING — This was the theme of 39 pilgrims who traveled to the Dubuque area on Oct. 21 from the Holy Family of the Bluffs parishes (linked parishes of St. Joseph, New Albin; Immaculate Conception, Lansing; Immaculate Conception, Wexford; St Ann-St Joseph, Harpers Ferry) and neighboring parish St. Patrick, Waukon.
Boarding a motor coach early that Friday morning, the mood was of excitement and anticipation of beautiful scenery, gaining knowledge about our archdiocese and companionship. During the journey we prayerfully meditated on the Scripture rosary with the aid of a DVD provided by Earl Mitchell, and then prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Our first stop was the New Melleray Abbey, where we were present in their chapel when the Trappist monks prayed the melodic and inspirational terce prayer. Many of us visited the gift shop before we traveled across the highway to the workshop for the Trappist caskets. We were given a history of the Trappist monastery and a guided tour of the workshop. We saw where each stage of a casket is assembled. Making caskets and urns provide the principle income for the monks. In this work they participate in the traditional works of mercy to bury the dead and to pray for the dead, by providing grieving families with a simple, beautiful casket or urn prayerfully crafted and blessed by them. One comment: “I’ve never seen such a clean workshop!”
We later toured the Cathedral of St. Raphael. Our main goal of visiting the cathedral was to pass through the Holy Doors of Mercy, to gain a plenary indulgence. We were given a guided tour and printed information about the cathedral and the Divine Mercy. We learned of the re-purposing of objects during renovations to preserve authenticity of the original building; the meaning of the figures in the stained glass windows; and the mortuary chapel where many of the deceased bishops and archbishops are buried. There are many relics at the cathedral contained in special cases called reliquaries. These are in the Corridor of the Saints. We had time to pray and wander around to become engaged in the majestic surroundings of the architecture of the structure.
Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, home of the Trappistine Sisters, was our final stop of the day. There we visited the chapel, some of the beautiful grounds and the candy store. Samples of the delicious caramels were offered to help with our selection at the store. Sister Chris gathered us together to give a short history of the abbey and talked of their means of self-support, which is the store. All of the sisters work in the candy factory, if they are able. In the “candy season”, October through March, sales provide the means for the sisters with their basic living expenses for the coming year. We learned we can buy their candy on-line at monasterycandy.com as well as at the store.
One of the revelations to some of us was that lay persons can schedule a day or more in “retreat” at both New Melleray and Our Lady of the Mississippi guest house. Many thought either or both would be a restful and inspiring place to spend some time in quiet reflection and prayer.
We ended our day with saying Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Jubilee Year of Mercy on the way back north. Our pilgrimage to Dubuque gave us the opportunity to indeed become “companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life … for we believe in the love of our God.” (lyrics by Carey Landry).
Below are thoughts and reflections of some of those on our pilgrimage to the holy places around and in Dubuque.
“To see the love of Christ the Trappistines live in their lives daily, was so inspiring. Their getting up at 3:30 a.m. every morning is a great love of God! The work and love the New Melleray monks show when working on the caskets is a work of mercy/love for people, and so inspiring to me.”
“It was valuable to be reminded of how the monks and nuns live. It reinforces our commitment to faith.”
“I learned so much about the places we visited and their work for the Lord. Each trip strengthens my faith!”
“The quiet time in the New Melleray chapel before terce was inspirational. I thought of all of the monks who had chanted the Divine Office and hours since 1849. It was a very spirit-filled place dedicated to giving honor and glory to God through sacrifice, silence and prayer.
Curran is a member of the linked parishes of Holy Family of the Bluffs.
Members from Holy Family of the Buffs linked parishes in front of their tour bus, which they used to travel to Catholic holy sites in Dubuque County. (Contributed photo)