It was a perfect day and perfect way to end Sisters Weekend 2013.

After sunrise and laughter over coffee on the beach this morning, we found ourselves hanging out on the sofas telling stories, drinking more coffee. Suddenly one of us discovered we were supposed to check out of the condo at 10am  (in ten minutes). Yikes!

A couple of us (not me) hopped up to pack; but Number 11 was painting Mom’s toes a beautiful turquoise color and she still had to add the glitter top coat. And of course they would need to dry.

Nonetheless we had all three cars packed and ready to go just in time to greet the housekeepers who arrived at 10:40. We were just a little bit late. Growing up in a big family, you learn when Mom says, “It’s time to go,” you need to be quick.

“Rustic Altar” on the site of the first Mass celebrate in the US.

We drove a few miles away to the Mission of Nombre de Dios and Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche located at 27 Ocean Avenue in Saint Augustine. The plan was to visit the mission and shrine, have lunch and be on the road by 2.

We walked the grounds for almost two hours—viewing the 208-foot cross commemorating Pedro de Menedez de Aviles’ landing in 1565.  On property too is the site of the first parish Mass in the US and the first Spanish Mission in America.  But the highlight of the visit for us was the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.

The Shrine of Our Lady of la Leche is the first shrine dedicated to Our Blessed Mother in the United States. The devotion to Our Lady of la Leche was brought from Spain in 1598 by the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine. The present chapel dates from 1914 and is a replica of earlier coquina chapels. It houses a replica of the statue of Our Lady of la Leche and provides visitors with a quiet place to pray.

Unbeknownst to us, the Shrine was designated by the Bishop of Saint Augustine as an official pilgrimage site during the Year of Faith (October 2012 – November 2013)!  I was trailing behind so the others had already entered and prayed at the Altar inside, but hadn’t noticed the posting showing it was a designated pilgrimage site.

I was filled with joy when I discovered this and ran to tell my sisters who had broken off into sets of ones and twos in various parts of the grounds.  They all raced back to follow the instructions of the Bishop in order to receive their Plenary Indulgences.

The instructions on the door were:

Porta Fidei, Open the Door of Faith! The Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared the period from October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013 as a “Year of Faith.” The Door of Faith is always open for us inviting us to a “life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.”

The Most Reverend Felipe J Estevez, DD, STD, Tenth Bishop of Saint Augustine has designated this church, Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche as a pilgrimage site during the Year of Faith.

The faithful who, making a pilgrimage in faith and participating here in the sacred liturgy or, at least pause for an apt time for recollection and pious meditations, concluding the recitation of the Our Father, the Apostles or Nicene Creed, and invoking the intercession of the Blessed Mother–Our Lady of La Leche–as well as our diocesan patron Saint Augustine of Hippo, be granted a Plenary Indulgence.

The usual conditions of being free from attachment to sin, sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion and prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI are also to be accomplished to gain the indulgence.  The indulgence is obtained for the individual or it may be applied to the faithful departed.  signed here, The Most Reverend Felipe J Estevez, DD, STD, Bishop of Saint Augustine

We were so excited to have this accidental pilgrimage when we were all together and with Mom–on Sisters Weekend!  It was so meaningful and extraordinary!

And I was a little extravagant in my touristy behaviors.  I’ve always dreaded sitting down with a friend to look at pages and pages of photos taken of monuments and attractions on her last vacation—and so I’ve never been one to take pictures of landmarks and things like that.  I’d say, “What’s the point of not having people in the photos?”

But then here I was, despite myself, taking photo after photo of every little memorial and structure and gravesite.  I couldn’t pass by these beautiful pieces of Catholic history and not document it in photos.  It was truly like Disneyland for me, if I was one to love Disneyland that is, which I’m not.

I purchased some holy water on my way out and we headed over to the Conch House Restaurant.  It was situated right on the water, surrounded by boats and birds. We had a seat outside and enjoyed a scrumptious lunch to finalize the weekend.  Each of us were like, “Wow, that oyster po-boy was the best I’ve ever had. How were your fish tacos? Oh, they were the best I’ve ever had!  And your Cuban sandwich?  It was the best I’d ever had!”

The sisters ordered a carafe of wine and I had an O’Doules that I didn’t finish.  An accidental pilgrimage and a grace filled day for this Catholic alcoholic.