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An Unplanned Pilgrimage View Comments
By Jim Brennan

Throughout the year, more than 2 million pilgrims visit the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France, to entrust to Mary their prayer intentions and to observe the basilica’s stunning architecture.
CHANCES ARE, as many American Catholics associate Notre Dame with a university in South Bend, Indiana, as they do with Our Lady. Some may even wonder why a cathedral in Paris was named after a football team with a fighting leprechaun as a mascot. Fewer still are likely to be familiar with the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France. Admittedly, I was one of those in the dark until an inadvertent discovery on a recent vacation.

Our adventure started out as planned, with a few days in Paris, visiting many of the popular attractions including the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and Luxembourg Gardens. When we arrived at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, it was immediately apparent why it is the most visited site in the city, even outranking the Eiffel Tower. Simply observing the 14th-century cathedral’s twin 228-foot towers— sculpted portals that portray scriptural themes and stained-glass artistry— makes it impossible to imagine a more magnificent structure anywhere on earth. And we hadn’t yet left Paris.

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Jim Brennan writes nonfiction, essays, and short stories from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in national publications including American Fitness, Inns Magazine, and Senior Living. He blogs about running and healthy lifestyles at rite2run.wordpress.com, and his memoir, Twenty-Four Years to Boston, is planned for spring 2013 publication.

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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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