Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 1, 1999
Mary gets credit for pilgrimage
Woman says she received 'signs' to lead pilgrimage to Guadalupe
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. That should have been the theme for the pilgrimage to Guadalupe, Mexico organized by Christine Foisy-Erickson.
What could have been dubbed just another shrine visit, Foisy-Erickson calls a true calling. And she has the not-so-coincidental signs to prove it.
"I might have started organizing this, but it wasn't my trip," Foisy-Erickson said of the Feb. 9-16 pilgrimage. "It was Our Mother's trip. . . . She was the true architect behind it.
"She made everything come together."
Last fall, a woman who had accompanied Foisy-Erickson on a pilgrimage to Bosnia in May 1998 asked if she was interested in organizing a trip to Guadalupe.
"I thought, if I was going to do this, I needed a sign," Foisy-Erickson said. "Not something small. . . . I'm going to have to be hit by a two-by-four for this one."
The first sign: she met Maria Saunders, who was acting as an interpreter for a Mexican missionary who was educating the public about Our Lady of Guadalupe through plays and storytelling.
The missionary was invited to perform the play for Foisy-Erickson's family in her home. He came with a replica of the tilma, the cloak worn by Juan Diego which had been emblazoned with the image of Mary. That was sign number two for Foisy-Erickson.
Foisy-Erickson began her planning, but she almost lost faith in the trip when there were only five confirmed bookings two weeks before the Jan. 4 deadline. She needed at least 20.
At the same time Saunders received a poster size image of Our Lady of Guadalupe from the missionary. Saunders had it framed and decided to pass it among her friends, so each family could have the opportunity of having it in their home.
"I thought Christine should have been the first to have it," Saunders said. "She should have it because she was chosen to take (Our Lady's) children to her."
But Foisy-Erickson thought otherwise.
"I was sad to have it because I thought it was an indication from Mary that she was coming to my house to visit me," Foisy-Erickson said. "She was coming to visit me and this trip was not meant to be."
The deadline came and still the number of bookings had not changed. Foisy-Erickson went to the travel agency where she planned the trip and manned the phones in hopes of getting more bookings.
Sign number three: by day's end she had received 26 confirmed bookings. In total, 35 people accompanied Foisy-Erickson to Guadalupe.
"The image that comes to me is of the story when Jesus said to the disciples to keep casting their nets and they ended up with all that fish," Foisy-Erickson said. "I had been fishing all night and my nets had not been filled, but I still set my nets out. The net overflowed to capacity."
The trip followed a declaration by Pope John Paul during his January visit to Mexico that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be celebrated each Dec. 12 in all dioceses of the Americas.
"(The declaration) shows that she belongs to everyone. It is the most visited shrine in the world, but many people don't know about her."
In 1531, following the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to a peasant, Juan Diego on three occasions on a hill called Tepeyac.
She asked him to tell the bishop she wanted a church built on the site. The bishop wanted proof.
Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac where he was told by Mary to gather roses in his cloak and present them to the bishop. These roses were not known to grow in Mexico. When Juan Diego unrolled his cloak to reveal the roses to the bishop, the cloak was emblazoned with an image of Mary standing in front of the sun and on top of a crescent moon.
The pilgrimage was led by Father Ray Guimond who had been to the shrine 10 years ago.
"I think this time it was much deeper for me," Guimond said. "It's like our Lady is there. It's not just an ordinary image. . . . It's like she's there with us."
Lorraine Kasper agrees with Guimond.
"I've had pictures (of Our Lady of Guadalupe) in my home," said Kasper. "When I first saw it I thought it was beautiful and all, but it was an image.
"When I saw the image in Guadalupe I expected it to be a spectacular feeling, but it was quick, no wonderful event. But the more time I spent there and the more I saw it, it got more and more real."
Kasper's friend Alice Stelter, who joined her on the pilgrimage, believes she also received her sign to go on the trip.
The evening Kasper had confirmed her trip, Stelter was at Mass with her husband. She was unaware of Kasper's intention to take the trip, but was praying for her friend to make a decision. After her prayer, her husband nudged her and said out of the blue, "By the way, you can go on that (pilgrimage) too."
That was Stelter's sign.
Stelter's face lights up and her voice is filled with excitement when she speaks of the pilgrimage.
"When I was there, my feeling was that I was in my home," Stelter said. "I've had an image of her in my home for three years. I feel like she is in my home.
"I felt totally at home when I was (in Guadalupe). I felt like I lived in Mexico. Coming home, I felt like I didn't leave her at all."
Maureen Devlin said the pope's declaration of the feast is a confirmation that there needs to be a return to a deeper belief and veneration of the Virgin Mary.
"Some people talk about not having Mary as a central part of out faith," said Devlin, who cashed in her travel points so she and her husband could join the pilgrimage. "I think this confirms that we need to include her in our faith."
Stelter added, "How can you talk about the Father without the Mother and the Son? It's a family unit."
Foisy-Erickson is planning another pilgrimage to Guadalupe in May. Contact her at 466-8676 or Maria Saunders at 461-8339.