Last year, I read shocking news about the shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York. The Society of Jesus announced that it no longer had the ability to staff the shrine with priests and the mission appeared to be at its end. In January of this year, 2016, the doors were closed and locked.
Today is the memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, and their companions, who are known as the North American Martyrs. Failing to preserve their sacred and powerful witness to the faith is quite sad. When the Bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger, heard the news of the closure, he quickly moved to raise funds for restorations. Despite the good efforts, the biggest challenge is not simply about money. How can the Shrine become the popular place for pilgrimages as it once was? In the beginning of the 20th century, the Jesuits built the imposing coliseum church for 6,000 worshippers. During this era, the pilgrimage was one of the pillars of Catholic identity. Culture has now changed and many Catholics do not make a priority for the pilgrimage.
As we celebrate the memorial of these North American Martyrs, let us pause for a moment and reflect these heroes of faith who lost their lives in defending the Church. Let us remember that these martyrs and all of the faithfully departed shall rise from the grave, just as Jesus Christ did, to share in Christ’s eternal glory. Perhaps each of us shall begin to make a plan to do a pilgrimage and help to restore this culture by sharing our experiences with our family and friends.