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Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Las Lajas

lajas1Boy’s pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Las Lajas, Ipiales (Colombia), from October18-23, 2016.

A group of around twenty boys from Manabí had been selling raffle tickets during a week to raise money for a six day pilgrimage with Brother William and Brother Ben, Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother, to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Las Lajas, in Ipiales (Colombia).

To start off the pilgrimage, we got together in the Parish of Río Chico to receive a blessing from Father Kevin. He reminded us that pilgrimages are not vacation trips, but spiritual experiences in which we must allow God to enter into our hearts.

We went to the station of Portoviejo to take the bus and travelled all night to Quito. Our friend, Luis Auz Tobar, picked us up from the station and brought us to his house to have breakfast. After breakfast, we took a bus to the city center to visit several churches. Quito was one of the first dioceses established in the 16th century by the Spanish Crown, and so we were able to contemplate the great beauty of all the ancient churches. First, we went to the Basilica of St. John. This neo-gothic church was built to commemorate the consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in 1883, by the president Gabriel García Moreno. Ecuador was the first country to be consecrated to the Heart of Jesus.

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Later, we visited the church of the Company of Jesus, which was built in the 18th century and that contains an extraordinary altarpiece carved in wood and covered in gold. We also went to the place where Gabriel García Moreno was killed. García Moreno was the president who freed Ecuador from liberalism in the second half of the 19th century.

After having finished our visit to the churches of Quito, we returned to Luis’ house. His wife, Edith, had prepared a delicious meal for us. After lunch, we took a bus to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Quinche, visited by Pope Francis in July 2015.

We went back to Luis’ house to pray the rosary with songs, giving thanks to Our Lady for the beauty churches that we had contemplated. We later watched a video produced by the Diocese of Phoenix (United States) on the masculinity crisis. This video talks about what a Catholic man should be with regard to his identification with Christ, how a Catholic man shows his love through the sincere gift of self, and the role of a father as the spiritual leader in the family, or in a Parrish, when it comes to celibacy. This video helped the boys understand the authentic role of a man in contrast with the many false images of masculinity.

After this formation meeting, we said goodbye to Luis and his family, and went to the station of Quito to catch the bus for Colombia. We reached Colombia’s border the morning of the following day. The first thing we did was take a taxi to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Las Lajas to look for lodging. Providence brought us to the Pastoral House, where we found accommodation for two nights. We ate breakfast in a family restaurant, and then we went to the Sanctuary for Mass.

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The history of Our Lady of Las Lajas goes back to the year 1754, when the Indian María Mueses de Quiñonas, and her deaf-mute daughter, Rosa, were resting in a cave. All of the sudden, María heard her daughter say, “Mommy, the mestiza is calling me.” María told the priest of Ipiales what had occurred, but he did not believe her. Our Lady appeared to her several times after that. Later, an image of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus and a rosary, with St. Dominic of Guzman and St. Francis kneeling in front of her, appeared on a rock. The image has no scientific explanation, because it was not painted, but imprinted on the rock directly by God. The scientific research carried out showed that the color of the image is part of the rock and that it does not fade but rather renews itself. Another beautiful detail is that, when looking at Our Lady from whatever angle, her gaze follows you. Our Lady is always looking at her children.

The sanctuary’s architecture and the landscape are breathtaking. There is a bridge, a river, a waterfall, and everything is surrounded by mountains. Halfway through the 19th century, the first sanctuary was built. Later, St. Ezequiel Moreno, Spanish bishop of Pasto, decided to amplify it, laying the first stone in 1916 and finishing in 1949.

One day we went to Pasto, which is located an hour north of Ipiales. There, we visited St. Ezequiel Moreno’s tomb. We gave thanks to God for the beautiful sanctuary and for his holy life. We later stopped at a restaurant to eat a typical Colombian dish, “bandeja paisa.”

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We had Mass in the morning on the last day, memory of St. John Paul II. The Gospel, from St. Luke, was providential because it spoke about the true sense of a pilgrimage and of conversion, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” (Lk. 13:3) Right after Mass, there was exposition of the Most Holy Sacrament, and we went down to the crypt in procession. There, we gave thanks to God and to Our Blessed Mother for all of the graces that we had received: the sorrowful ones, such as the cold and the lack of sleep; and also for the joyous ones, such as the fraternity, Our Lady of Las Lajas, the landscape, the hospitality of Luis and his family, the Pastoral House, and the restaurant. We asked Our Lady to help us be faithful to the commitments we made during this pilgrimage.

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