Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa Arrives at the Gateway to the West

The Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa arrived in the great State of Missouri on Saturday, June 21, which was apt since the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis has organized Masses for an end to abortion on the third Saturday of every month for years. Karen Nolkemper, the director of the Respect Life Office and Gabe Jones helped coordinate this visit of the icon.

Her first stop was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.  The main celebrant of the Mass was Father Joe Coffey, a priest from Philadelphia and a Navy chaplain who was released to serve the Archdiocese of St. Louis.  He and Fr. West have a mutual friend in Fr. Denis Wilde, O.S.A., and have previously collaborated in pro-life efforts.  This was Fr. Coffey’s last day in the Archdiocese of St. Louis since he was being assigned to a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast of Japan.  He was honored to host the Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, as the fight for life has been a major part of his vocation as a priest. He has led prayer vigils in front of abortion mills within the Archdiocese of St. Louis for years. 

After the Mass, the Black Madonna was processed out of the Basilica and down a few blocks to the local Planned Parenthood abortion mill, where Fr. Coffey and Fr. West led prayers to end abortion.

In the afternoon, we visited St. Louis’s famous Gateway Arch. St. Louis is considered the Gateway to the West since it was from there that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their great expedition through the Western United States.

As we walked from the Arch toward the Old Basilica of St. Louis, Fr. West recognized Father Thomas Boortz from St. Ignatius Church in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania.  Fr. Boortz was in town with his brother and nephew on vacation, with the highlight being a baseball game between the Cardinals and the Phillies. Fr. Boortz invited us to watch a documentary about Lewis and Clark, in whose steps we would be roughly following as we made our way to the Pacific Ocean.

After visiting the Arch we brought the Black Madonna to St. John Nepomuk Chapel.  It is a small but beautiful church made by Czech immigrants in the 19th century.  St. Louis is the first immigrant settlement of Czechs in the United States, and small community of Czechs remains in the parish.  Czechs are familiar with Our Lady of Czestochowa and were very grateful for her visit.

Father Paul Rothschild from the neighboring parish of the Infant of Prague visited the Black Madonna on Sunday.  The most common devotion for Czechs is to the Infant of Prague, to whom Fr. Paul attributes ongoing financial support for his small parish.  The devotion to the Infant of Prague carries this promise from Jesus “The More Honor Me the More I Will Bless You”.

Fr. West celebrated the weekend Masses, including the solemnity of Corpus Christi, at St. John Nepomuk Chapel. In his homily he credited Mary’s “yes” to God for the gift of the Eucharist.  Indeed, the Word took flesh in Mary’s womb.  He also thanked the Blessed Mother for the closing of the last abortion mill in Corpus Christi, Texas, which several Catholic pro-lifers there attribute to the recent visit of the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, and years of prayerful witness at the mill.

The icon remained at St. John Nepomuk Chapel through the afternoon as the parish held a picnic, and many visitors came throughout the day to pray before the icon.  On Sunday night, June 22, the icon left St. Louis for Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Columbia, MO.  Father Joby P. Thomas was on-hand to welcome Our Lady to the church.  Fr. Thomas is from Kerala India and would very much like the icon to visit a Marian shrine there in his native country.

After a morning Mass celebrated by Fr. West, about 70 dedicated pro-life witnesses accompanied the Black Madonna to the local Planned Parenthood.  It was located right off a main road and traffic was heavy so many were edified by the pro-life witness and undoubtedly, many saw the Pilgrim Icon.

Our Lady of Czestochowa pressed on to St. Francis Regis Church located in South Kansas City, MO.  Father Sean McCaffery is the Parochial Administrator of this thriving parish. Transitional Deacon Jorge Andres Moreno, who will be ordained as a priest next year, also participated in the Mass.  Deacon Andres is a transplant from Colombia who has come to Kansas City to help the Spanish speaking Catholic population in the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph.  Fr. West celebrated an evening Mass and gave an extensive explanation about the Black Madonna. 

Afterwards those attending the Mass venerated the Black Madonna and stayed for a reception, during which we met the Sisters in Jesus the Lord, who were visiting from their nearby community in Raytown, MO.   Fr. West knows Sister Maria Stella, C.J.D., a native Virginian, who is assigned to work with the Sisters in Jesus the Lord in Vladivostok, Russia.  It is difficult work.  Only a handful of sisters in Vladivostok serve the vast area of Eastern Russia, providing help to orphans and young mothers in need.

The Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa has a special connection to Vladivostok because she began her worldwide pilgrimage there as a Russian Orthodox pro-life team held her above the waters of the Pacific Ocean and she began her journey across two continents.

The Little Sisters of the Poor  also welcomed the icon during a spontaneous visit the next day, Tuesday, June 24. The Little Sisters, the elderly residents and the staff of the nursing home were very pleased to hear about the journey of the icon and venerate her during their morning Mass on the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. During his homily, Fr. West spoke of the humility of St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother, who both direct attention away from themselves pointing the way to Christ.  After everyone had an opportunity to venerate her, the Black Madonna was off to Kansas.

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