EMMITSBURG, MD. – The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton welcomed more than four hundred visitors Sunday for its annual Pilgrimage for the Sea Services. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is the Patroness of the Sea Services, which include the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, and Public Health Service. The pilgrimage is co-sponsored each year by the Seton Shrine and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS) to pray for those who serve, and those who served.
The event commenced with a 3:00 p.m. Mass in the Basilica. The Most Reverend Michael C. Barber, S.J., Bishop of Oakland, CA (pictured)—himself a retired chaplain in the U.S. Navy Reserve—was the principal celebrant and homilist. Six priests concelebrated, including two from the AMS: Fathers Christopher Armstrong, Judicial Vicar, and Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., Director of Vocations.
Among those in the congregation were active-duty and retired personnel, including members of the Catholic War Veterans & Auxiliary of the United States. A group of midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, participated, and one of them, plebe Anna Hercules, served as lector. The U.S. Naval Academy Catholic Choir, led by director Monte Maxwell, provided the music.
In his homily, Bishop Barber observed how fear of death, the seafarer’s constant companion, can lead to spiritual awakening. He recalled his own experience as a chaplain visiting encamped U.S. Marines along the Kuwait-Iraq border in the hours leading up to the 2003 U.S. invasion. He advised them, “All our lives are in God’s hands. If today is not your day to die, no bullet will find you. If today is your day, the only thing keeping you from heaven is mortal sin. We have a remedy for sin, the sacrament of confession which wipes sin away.” Bishop Barber told the Marines he would not leave camp until everyone who wanted forgiveness had a chance to go to confession. He said all of them accepted the invitation, even the non-Catholics.
Bishop Barber had a special message for the midshipmen in attendance: “Someday soon,” he said, “you will become a commanding officer or a captain of a ship. It is vitally important you provide a priest-chaplain to your crew if you are going into harm’s way. If you are ordering young men and women into battle, in which they very well may die in defense of their country, you owe it to them – to give them the chance to be ‘in the state of Grace.’”
Mass was followed by a banquet served compliments of the Seton Shrine.