Forty-two members of the congregation of the Queenship of Mary Church in Northampton returned from a 12-day pilgrimage through Spain, Portugal, and France. The immersive, spiritual tour, coordinated by Diane Cortazzo of Go Ahead Tours, followed in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims and visited Christianity’s holiest sites. Father Patrick Lamb served as Spiritual Director of the tour. He directed masses and led the group in prayer.
“Having a priest like Father Lamb, guiding our pilgrimage, concelebrating, giving homilies, stopping in Cathedrals to say a prayer as a group, praying the Rosary on the bus as we went from shrine to shrine…everything he did, stressed the fact that this was a true pilgrimage,” said Cortazzo.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for members of the Queenship of Mary Church to join Father Lamb on this journey.
“We feel blessed that we were able to have this opportunity to join Father Lamb on this pilgrimage,” said Mike and Mari Gregoris. “It was such an amazing trip. We received many blessings and graces along the way.”
The tour started in Barcelona, where pilgrims explored the spiritual sites and architectural wonders of the city. They traveled via cable car up to the secluded Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. There pilgrims had the chance to see the Black Virgin of Montserrat and explore the monastery. Pilgrims also explored several of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, including La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi, and strolled the Placa d’Espanya.
Pilgrims then ventured to Lourdes, a mountain town in France. There they attended international mass in the Basilica of St. Pius X, saw the Rosary Basilica at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, visited the houses of Bernadette, and attended the Torchlight Marian Procession and mass at the Grotto of the Apparition.
The third stop on the pilgrimage was Burgos in northern Spain. Pilgrims visited the Burgos cathedral, a UNESCO site, and saw the tombs of El Cid, a medieval military leader and Christian knight.
Burgos is also a major stop on the Way of St. James, a pilgrimage trail with six centuries of history. Pilgrims from Northampton got to follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims before them by walking several miles of the trail. It was a stop on the tour that Cortazzo calls a highlight.
“I realized, as I walked quietly, that pilgrims have walked this same path to St. James’ the Apostle’s tomb for over six centuries,” she said.
Then, pilgrims traveled to Santiago de Compostela, the final destination on the Way of St. James. The town once ranked behind Jerusalem and Rome as Christianity’s most important pilgrimage site. Pilgrims not only got to explore the city and enter the Gothic Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, but also got to make their way to the Galician Coast where they saw waterfalls, visited the fishing Village of Fisterra, and viewed the cliffs and lighthouses along the shore. They also attended the Pilgrim’s Mass.
The final leg of the tour took pilgrims into Portugal and the city of Fátima. It is in this city that the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared six different times to shepherd children. Pilgrims were able to attend afternoon masses and candlelight rosary processions before departing for home.
“A pilgrimage of a lifetime,” is what Karen and Dennis Campbell called the tour.
“We met so many wonderful people and visited so many holy sites,” they continued.
It was a life-changing trip, said Cortazzo.
“I have traveled to Europe over 55 times since 1998, but for me this pilgrimage tour will always be special,” she said. “To travel abroad, and still learn about other cultures, eat wonderful food, and have fun with my fellow travelers, while concentrating on my spiritual life as a Catholic was life-changing.”
Cortazzo, who as a German teacher at Parkland High School led students on tours of Europe before joining Go Ahead Tours as an ambassador, encourages everyone to take the time to see the world. Even after 20 years of leading tours, the experiences, people, and sites abroad still leave Cortazzo in awe.
“Travel is amazing,” she said, “whether it is a pilgrimage or a regular tour.”
Through Go Ahead Tours, Cortazzo is available to help other parishes in the area plan a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage tour of Europe. Parishes can email her at Fraucortazzo@gmail.com. Individuals interested in learning about other tours of Europe available can also contact Cortazzo or visit www.grouptoursite.com/dianecortazzo to see a list of upcoming tours.