Participants in the May 4 Walk to Our Lady: A Marian Pilgrimage to the Mary Crowning journey from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center. (PHOTO BY BOB REDDY | FC)

Pilgrims enhance Marian devotion

VENICE  |  A hearty group of those dedicated to a Marian devotion took part in a special pilgrimage May 4 by trekking between Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice.

On a steamy Saturday morning, Bishop Frank J. Dewane kicked-off the pilgrimage in front of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish with a prayer noting that the walk was to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and to pray in solidarity for persecuted Christians throughout the world who face oppression and death each day.

During the 6.9-mile walk, the pilgrims, including Bishop Dewane, prayed the rosary in several languages, recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet and sang a number of Marian songs. The walk concluded at the retreat center with a May Crowning ceremony with a lei and crown of flowers placed upon a Marian statue. A lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers rounded out the day.

“Absolutely wonderful,” said Claire Dawkins of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. “Our Lady means so much to me. I go to a parish dedicated to her honor. I pray for her intercessions every day. It is so wonderful that the Diocese does this walk. I just moved to Florida and this is the best thing I’ve done since I moved in January.”

A group from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, escorted by religious sisters, took part in the walk and they enjoyed the experience. “It was good to be here,” one young man said. Another group represented the Vietnamese youth from St. Martha Parish in Sarasota.

Bridget Cunningham of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice explained that the walk was good for her because she had a chance to pray the rosary multiple times during the three-hour pilgrimage, something she admits she does not do as often as she should.

“I love Mary and all that she represents to the world because she is who we all work hard to become, someone who unfailing responds to the call of the Lord,” Cunningham said. “The least I could do was walk a few miles on a hot day to honor her.”

The walk, which followed Center Road, Jackson Street, Border Road and then South Moon Drive, traveled under and later over Interstate 75, was a joint effort of the Diocesan Department of Communications Office and Office of Evangelization. 

Along the route many people stop to watch the pilgrims pass by. Several wondered what was going on and all were impressed by the commitment of the participants as they walked in the heat and humidity for something in which they truly believed.

The pilgrimage had a Sheriff’s Office escort and two trolleys to allow the pilgrims a chance to get out of the heat or rest and then later as transportation to return to their vehicles from the Retreat Center. In addition, several portable restrooms and cold water and snacks were available along the way.

Following the May Crowning, Bishop Dewane imparted an apostolic blessing upon the pilgrims for the sacrifice they made and for the good they did as part of their public witness to Our Lady on behalf of persecuted Christians everywhere.