In Laurie, priest urges pilgrims to prepare for death, eternity


Spiritual battle was the topic of a recent Saturday pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Mary Mother of the Church in Laurie.

Father Anthony Viviano took the role of field sergeant.

“I was asked to speak on ‘Good or Evil, Jesus or Satan,’” said Fr. Viviano, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Westphalia and St. Anthony of Padua parish in Folk, who directed the pilgrimage.

“I added ‘heaven or hell’ to help drive home the gravity of the spiritual battle,” he said.

About 20 people took part in the pilgrimage, which included mission talks and personal testimony from Fr. Viviano, in addition to Mass, Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, private prayer, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and lunch.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation was available throughout the day.

One hundred fifty first-class relics, under the watch of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, were displayed for veneration and intercessory prayer with the saints.

“Fr. Viviano gave a great presentation and entertained us with his beautiful voice and guitar,” said Laurice Stevens, a member of St. Michael parish in Russellville.

Dr. Gregory Mary Thompson, the pilgrimage’s organizer, heard Fr. Viviano preach a homily one Sunday in Westphalia and knew he would be the one to set the tone for this event.

“I don’t pull any punches,” Fr. Viviano noted. “It’s a great responsibility for a priest to speak the truth of the Church for the good of souls. I take it very seriously.”

Am I ready?

Fr. Viviano realized that to an extent, he was “preaching to the choir,” but he wanted to highlight “the seriousness that we’re called to take in this life, to guard our souls.”

Several times, he asked the pilgrims to consider: “Are we preparing ourselves for eternal life or eternal death?”

He said that’s a practical rather than frightening question, because God gives His people everything they need to accept the eternal salvation Jesus accomplished on the cross.

“It’s a pretty simple concept,” the priest said. “Prepare yourself for eternal life.”

He approved of the line of pilgrims that was forming outside the confessional after he finished his first talk.

“We need to run to that confessional,” he pointed out. “We cannot receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin.”

Northward gaze

Fr. Viviano believes people are hungry for spiritual truth that resonates in their soul.

“Deep down, consciously or subconsciously, your soul is going to identify with the truth,” he said.

He suggested reading about St. Pio of Pietrelcina, known as Padre Pio, to learn more about the spiritual life and the salvation of souls.

Sharing some of his own experiences of conversion of reconciliation, he talked about the importance of everyone having a “North Star” — “a person who helps you find your way home when you’ve veered off course.”

For Fr. Viviano, that person was his father, the late Joseph Viviano, who died two years ago.

Challenging messages

Fr. Viviano also shared several hymns and faith-based songs he had written.

“The morning went by very quickly,” one of the pilgrims stated. “Father is a great speaker and singer.”

The pilgrim, who asked to remain anonymous, especially enjoyed the question-and-answer session and Fr. Viviano’s candor in sharing the story of his call to Priesthood.

“He knows how to keep your interest and does not put himself above you,” the pilgrim stated. “I think sometimes we forget that our priests are men are just like us.”

Messages that particularly resonated with him were the need to seek the Blessed Mother’s intercession; the importance of all the faithful, including priests, going to Confession often; the need to pray for young people to overcome the numerous temptations presented by the internet and social media; and the importance of praying for deceased loved ones so they can complete their journey to heaven.

“It had been many years since I went on a pilgrimage,” the pilgrim stated. “It was a great day.”

Lambs and wolves

Fr. Viviano pointed to national studies showing that the COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with an increase in alcohol abuse and use of pornography.

He suggested curbing children’s access to smartphones and making sure they’re equipped with parental controls.

Otherwise, he said, “you are feeding the lambs to the wolves.”

Mrs. Stevens wrote down several other messages from the day that she took to heart:

  • “There is no crown without a cross.”
  • “Talk to your guardian angel each day. Ask for protection of mind, spirit and body.”
  • “The greatest retreat we can go to is one with a funeral coffin; it prepares us for an eventuality.”
  • “We get caught up in consumerism; the devil wants us unprepared.”
  • “Our job is to be faithful; God will do the rest.”

The National Shrine of Mary Mother of the Church is located on the grounds of St. Patrick Church, off of Highway 5 in Laurie.

The next pilgrimage is scheduled for Sept. 26.