By Elsa Baughman
GREENWOOD – The first “Pilgrimage for Life” in the Diocese of Jackson, was held Saturday, Jan. 14, at Locus Benedictus Retreat Center. January is Respect Life Month.
During the three mile walk around the retreat center and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Delta, the pilgrims, flanked on both sides by dancers from Tupelo and Jackson, prayed the rosary, sang songs and prayed after each mystery. Leading the way were four people carrying the cross, (the source of salvation) the banner of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe (source of conversion) and the banner of the event. The dancers took turns dancing after each mystery.
“We want to present God our needs and pray for justice, for life and hope,” said Father Michael McAndrew, CsSR, before starting the walk. “This is why we walk in pilgrimage, it is a very Catholic tradition. And on this day we are going to celebrate life, from conception to natural death, and we’re going to pray for the honor and dignity of every person and every race,” he said.
The petitions after each mystery were offered for the healthy and happy conception of all infants and for the end of abortion; for all migrants and immigrants of the world; for all elderly people so that they may always be treated and cared for with gratitude and love; for all the youth and young people of the world so that they live their lives with purpose and be brave men and women of God; and for the care and respect of our environment, our home.
“This is something beautiful, I loved it,” said Ernestina Mata, of Jackson, who attended the pilgrimage with her teenage daughter. “I was not planning to come,” she added, “but God wanted me to come. I saw myself in need to accompany my daughter because my husband didn’t want her to come alone.” Mata commented that the event reminded her of something that she witnessed as a child in the village where she grew up in Mexico. “On special occasions the people of the town gathered in the field to ask God or give him thanks for something in particular, such like that it rains or for a good harvest,” she said. “Today, these childhood memories came to my mind.”
The closing Mass was celebrated at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Delta by the priests of the Redemptorist community living in Greenwood.
In his homily, Father McAndrew said that the Mass was celebrated for all the families affected by the migratory situation in the country and especially by migrants who do not have a house, who are not welcomed and for the success of the Fifth National Encuentro. During Mass, a family whose father is facing deportation, offered their testimony.
Veronica Lopez, coordinator for Hispanic young adult ministry for the diocese, said she thinks this first Pilgrimage for Life was very good and successful. “We were able to gather 150 people; whole families, including children, youth, young adults, grandparents and even Father Ted’s dog,” she said, adding that “precisely, all of these people, human beings, were the focus and objective of our pilgrimage. And we prayed for the human rights of each one of us, from the youngest to the oldest.
Lopez said she was very pleased for the support and help she received from the young Hispanic adults of the diocese and the Redemptorist priests who guided and led the pilgrimage. “It was great,” she said. She noted she wants to continue having this pilgrimage every year and hoped that more people attend it. “I would like to see more than 500 people attending next year.”
Salomón Esparza, from Greenwood, attended the event with his wife and children and said he liked that people from other areas of the diocese took the day to attend the event. “This is something very nice to experience and I think the children will always remember it. I would like to continue attending and that it becomes an annual tradition.”