By Father Peter West and Chris Morales
Winona, Minnesota is a picturesque city on the Mississippi River. Named after Princess We-Noh-Nah, daughter of Cheif Wapasha III, it is known as the stained glass capital of the United States. The Black Madonna was warmly welcomed during her busy visit to the Diocese of Winona from May 23 to June 2 due to the kind efforts of Raymond deSouza, who is Director of Evangelization and Apologetics for the Diocese of Winona and also works with Human Life International’s international mission. Raymond is truly a talented international leader who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French and English fluently. He has lectured in many countries speaking on behalf of HLI, defending the faith and Church teaching on life, marriage and family issues.
The Black Madonna first visited SS. Peter and Paul Church in Mankato. The pastor, Father Mariano Varela, IVE, is an Incarnate Word Father and the Rector of Blessed José Sanchez Del Rio High School Seminary.
Blessed José Sanchez Del Rio was martyred when he was 14 years old in Mexico during La Cristiada, or the Cristero War. The Cristeros were the Mexican Catholic resistance against state sponsored anti-Catholic persecution in the early 20th century. Their story is more widely known since the release of the film “For Greater Glory” in 2012.
The Incarnate Word Fathers were founded in Argentina for the purpose of forming new priests. It was beautiful to see these priests passing along their love for the Madonna to future priests by bringing them to venerate the Black Madonna.
The pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa also made a brief visit to Sacred Heart Church in Owatonna, where the pastor Father John Sauer and his associate Father Michael Cronin welcomed her. Fr. West celebrated the Saturday evening vigil Mass and parishioners venerated the icon. For such a small parish, Sacred Heart Church does an incredible amount of good work, beginning with weekly adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They refer pregnant women in need of assistance to pregnancy resource centers; and they promote Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Steubenville Youth Conferences, EWTN Catholic television and a prayer network.
On Sunday morning the Black Madonna visited Sacred Heart Cathedral in Winona, whose parish community features a significant number of faithful of Kashubian ethnic descent. In 1855, Winona had the largest settlement of Polish Kashubians, who speak a certain Polish dialect and founded the city of Gdansk. They generally claim to be Polish with Kashubian ethnicity, and of course have a great devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa.
We met a student from St. Mary’s University who is a team member of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students or FOCUS. He took holy cards of Our Lady of Czestochowa to share with his fellow university students.
The parishioners of the Cathedral were greatly edified by the Our Lady’s visit. Peter Martin serves as the Director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Winona. He told us that he was going to buy his son an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. His son told him, “I can’t take my eyes off of her.”
Our next stop was an evening Mass at St. Francis Church in Rochester. Father Mark McNea and his Parochial Vicar Father Jose Morales were our gracious hosts. St. Francis parish is deeply connecting to the Diocese of Garzón in Colombia, and has a special relationship with its ordinary, Bishop Fabio Duque Jaramillo. The collaboration between the bishops in the Diocese of Winona and the Diocese of Garzón affords the opportunity for priests from these dioceses to collaborate in serving the people of God and meeting their needs. Chris Morales had the opportunity to speak about the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa to Bishop Fabio during Ministry Days for the Diocese of Winona at a later date following the visit to St. Francis Church.
At St. Felix Church in Wabasha we were cordially greeted by Msgr. Thomas Cook. While in Wabasha which is next to the Mississippi River we visited the National Eagle Center. This is a place that houses Bald Eagles, which are the national birds of the United States. They have one Golden Eagle also housed at the center, which happens to be the national bird of Mexico. It made us think of the future when the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa leaves the United States to go to Mexico. We also recall that St. John Paul II championed the right to religious freedom as the greatest human right. While at St. Felix, Fr. West celebrated an opening evening Mass and another Mass and gave talks about the Black Madonna and parishioners venerated her.
Perhaps the smallest of all churches the Black Madonna has visited in the United States was St. Rose of Lima Church in Lewiston — a city with a population of just 1,596 according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Father Timothy Hall prepared a special pro-life homily comparing the make believe world of the popular children’s show Mr. Rogers to the make believe world in which people think that abortion is anything less than killing a human being. He called his parishioners to a sober critique of society in the United States and encouraged them to a renewed vigor in promoting the Culture of Life. After Mass we prayed the Rosary and parishioners venerated the Black Madonna.
The next morning Fr. West celebrated Mass and spoke about the Seven Sorrows of Mary, relating it to the Black Madonna and her sorrow over the sin of abortion. He read a quote from St. Francis of Assisi found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which St. Francis said:
 We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him. Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.
On Friday, the pilgrim icon visited St. Mary’s Church in another small town of Chatfield, where Fr. West celebrated Mass and spoke about Christ’s message about how the sorrow of the faithful will be turned into joy. We now mourn because of injustice and the Culture of Death; but Mary, who shared in the suffering of Christ and now shares His glory, will bring about the victory of the Culture of Life. In the morning we celebrated the Feast of the Visitation with a Mass. Fr. West spoke of the parallels between the Ark of the Covenant in the Book of 2 Samuel and Mary in the Gospel of Luke. Catholic tradition has long held that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant, and as the Jews were victorious over their enemies when they were faithful to God and brought his Ark into battle with them, so we can defeat the Culture of Death if we are faithful to God and call on the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
After a weekend visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, the pilgrim icon returned to Rochester on Monday to visit Pax Christi Parish. After the evening Mass, the pilgrim icon was processed to a Marian Grotto on the property of the parish where we sang Marian hymns and prayed the Rosary for the triumph of the Culture of Life.
Just across the street from Pax Christi is St. James Coffee Shop. Operated as a Catholic non-profit, St. James provides a place where Catholics and non-Catholics can meet, drink good coffee and learn about the Christian Faith. It is also a place for Catholics to come and share fellowship with lively music and entertainment. St. James Coffee took an active part in promoting the visit of the pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa to Pax Christi Parish, so we left them with a stack of holy cards that were touched to the icon.
Father Peter West is the Vice President for Missions at Human Life International.
Chris Morales is traveling across North America assisting Fr. Peter West with the From Ocean Campaign in Defense of Life.