Legates Trek to México
Even though it’s been nearly 500 years since Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill, her appeal — and her message — have not diminished with time. For that matter, neither has the miraculous image she left on Juan Diego’s cloak in December of 1531.
For the 56 pilgrims on the fourth annual Legatus-Papal Foundation pilgrimage to México, the two-day experience also left an indelible mark on their hearts and souls.
“I’m seeing the same image that they saw nearly 500 years ago, and that can’t be said for any other apparition,” Troy King, a member of Legatus’ Orlando Chapter who made the pilgrimage with his wife Christy and three of their children, said of the Oct. 21-24 pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage was the brainchild of Tom and Glory Sullivan, members of Legatus’ Jacksonville Chapter. The couple has been traveling to México for decades to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a remarkable girls’ school called Villa de los Niñas. Legatus teamed up with The Papal Foundation to launch the pilgrimage in 2013.
Legates’ first stop was the México City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the oldest and largest Catholic cathedrals in the Americas. The cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813, and consecrated in 1656.
Next on the itinerary was an entire afternoon at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. After viewing Juan Diego’s tilma, which bears the miraculous image of Our Lady, pilgrims climbed Tepeyac Hill where a chapel marks the first of four Marian apparitions. The group attended a special Mass on the hill celebrated by Fr. Edward Filardi; Fr. Bill Byrne, chaplain of Legatus’ DC Chapter, concelebrated. Also joining the pilgrims were Legatus’ executive director Stephen Henley and his wife Krista; Legatus’ pilgrimage director Laura Sacha; Fr. Stephen Parkes, chaplain of Legatus’ Orlando Chapter; and Jim Coffey, vice president of advancement for The Papal Foundation.
On the final day, pilgrims journeyed to Chalco, east of México City, to visit Villa de los Niñas. The Sisters of Mary operate 15 boarding schools in eight countries around the world, all known as “Boystown” and “Girlstown” in English.
The schools award scholarships to students from the poorest areas of the country, based on academic performance and need. The schools’ U.S.-born founder, Monsignor Aloysius “Al” Schwartz, has been declared venerable.
Pilgrims joined the school’s 3,000 students for Sunday Mass before enjoying lunch with the sisters. The rest of the day was spent touring the campus and interacting with students.
“We’re motivated by the fact that Fr. Schwartz is a saint,” explained Glory Sullivan, who has been a Girlstown and Boystown supporter with her husband Tom for nearly 25 years. “We truly believe that the graduates of the Sisters of Mary — all 130,000 of them — are the fruits of the tilma. They are changing the world.”
Jim Longon, a Philadelphia Legate, was astounded by his experience. “These girls are learning how to go back and help their families and their communities. The nuns here are making leaders. Without a doubt, we’re coming back again. My wife Anne and I are already thinking, ‘Who do we bring back with us next time?’ This far exceeded our expectations.”
Additionally, a dozen pilgrims attended a pre-trip to an orphanage in Cuernavaca, México, called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH), Spanish for “Our little brothers and sisters.” Pilgrims spent a day at the orphanage, 60 miles south of México City. NPH cares for more than 3,400 orphans — most of them desperately poor — in nine countries in Central and South America. None of NPH’s children are adopted out. They’re raised and educated onsite before being sent to college or university if they have the desire and aptitude.
PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.