The Faithful Traveler’s bucket list

Summer is upon us, and travel is on our minds and in our blood! What better way to start planning than with a list of the top 10 Catholic sites to see?

My husband, David, and I travel the world, exploring and filming Catholic sacred sites to feature in our fun and informative travel series, “The Faithful Traveler,” which broadcasts on EWTN and other networks around the world.

From our nation’s capital to the Holy Land to Europe and Mexico, I’m excited to share my favorites with OSV Newsweekly. Along with the well-known sites, I offer a handful of lesser-known places to visit while you’re in the neighborhood. Also, for those who are unable to make the pilgrimage in person, I’ve included for each site an opportunity to make a virtual pilgrimage online.

Maybe my list will inspire you to get out there and explore our Catholic treasures, heritage and history! And let us know what sites you would include on your own bucket list by emailing feedback@osv.com.

For more information about “The Faithful Traveler,” visit thefaithfultraveler.com.

Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem, Palestine

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Why not begin your faithful travels at the beginning, in the little town of Bethlehem? This city’s name literally means “the House of Bread,” and it’s where God wanted the Word to become flesh. The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest churches on the planet, and it was built atop the site of Jesus’ birth. It dates back to the fourth century, when Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, commanded that a church be built atop the sacred site. It’s been undergoing some much-needed renovations of late, but the crypt below the church is still open for worship. In that dark cave, the Mother of God gave birth to Our Redeemer. Pilgrims venerate a silver star that reads: “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary.”

“O come, let us adore him,” the Christmas song says. What better place to adore Our Lord than in the place of his birth, where he humbled himself to become man for all of us?

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Virtual pilgrimage
Explore the birthplace of Christ in the Church of the Nativity through a 3-D tour of the holy site at jerusalem.com/tour/nativity_church_3D/web.

Bonus Sites in Bethlehem
Next door, the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was built atop the cave where St. Jerome lived and died. Shepherds’ Fields is where the angels announced Jesus’ birth, and it has a beautiful church built in the shape of a shepherd’s tent, sitting atop a cave where the shepherds rested while their flocks were out at night. The Milk Grotto is where it’s believed a drop of the Virgin Mary’s milk fell to the ground and miraculously changed the cave’s walls from red to white.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Paris

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Worshipping the Light of the World in the City of Lights is easier than whipping up a croissant. Well … anything’s easier than that. But in Paris, there is no dearth of outstanding Catholic churches where you can give thanks for everything, starting with French cheese, wine and bread! The Notre-Dame Cathedral is the seat of the Church in this city, and it’s a great place to begin your Parisian pilgrimage.

Sitting imposingly atop the île de la Cité (“island of the city”) surrounded by the River Seine, Notre-Dame is one of the Catholic Church’s most recognized cathedrals, with its flying buttresses, menacing gargoyles, elaborate rose window and massive twin towers. It took almost 200 years to build this French Gothic masterpiece, and many consider it to be one of the style’s finest examples. Napoleon crowned himself here. Relics of Christ’s crown of thorns reside here, brought to Paris by St. Louis IX, King of France. Many royal marriages and historic events have happened in and around this cathedral. But the thing I most like to wonder when I kneel in the creaky old pews is: “How many saints have prayed here?” St. Thérèse of Lisieux? St. Ignatius of Loyola? I ask them to keep me and this magnificent city in their prayers.

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Virtual pilgrimage
The official website of the cathedral offers a wealth of information for online pilgrims, including information on the history, artwork and more. Visit notredamedeparis.fr/en for more.

Bonus Sites in Paris
Other amazing sacred sites to visit in Paris are the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, where Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, and where you can see the saint’s incorrupt body; Sainte Chapelle; the beautiful Basilica of Sacré Coeur; Church of St.-Leu-St.-Gilles, which houses the relics of St. Helena; La Madeleine; St.-Severin; St.-Étienne-du-Mont; and Maison-Mère to see the relics of St. Vincent de Paul.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Wadi al-Kharrar, Jordan

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The site of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan was a major pilgrimage site until the 14th century, when the Holy Land became dangerous to Christians while under Muslim rule. The site was neglected, and after centuries of war, it eventually was forgotten. With the end of the wars, and through the grace of God, the baptismal site was rediscovered in the 20th century by a determined archaeologist monk. Today, Bethany Beyond the Jordan is recognized worldwide as the actual site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, a fact that is supported by centuries of pilgrim accounts, archaeological findings, the sixth-century Madaba Map — the oldest known map of the Holy Land — and countless other sources. Pope John Paul II made this his first stop when he visited the Holy Land, as did his successors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Today, pilgrims can make all sorts of stops along the River Jordan on the Israeli side of the river, but let me encourage you to cross the border and visit the magnificent country of Jordan. See the actual place where God said, “This is my Son. ... Listen to him.” Pilgrims have been baptized here for centuries upon centuries since. Come to Jordan to dip your feet in this sacred river, listen to the reeds whistle and feel the Holy Spirit all around you.

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Virtual pilgrimage
For an online tour of the site where Christ was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, visit baptismsite.com/online-tour.

Bonus Sites in Jordan
There are many biblical sites in Jordan that every Christian should visit, including Mount Nebo, where Moses looked out to the Promised Land; Mukawir, where John the Baptist was martyred; Tel Mar Elias, where Elijah was born; and Madaba, to see the famous map. Don’t miss Petra, to see what God (and man) can do with stone and sand.

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

Lourdes, France

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On Feb. 11, 1858, St. Bernadette Soubirous saw a lady dressed in white in a rock grotto at Massabielle in Lourdes, France. She met the lady 15 times before the lady told her who she was: the Immaculate Conception — the Blessed Virgin Mary. Centuries later, millions of pilgrims from around the world descend on Lourdes, most coming to bathe in its miraculous healing waters. Some come away with physical miracles. Most come away with peace in their hearts as only God can give.

Those whose ailments aren’t healed despite prayers at Lourdes mirror the life of the saint who met Mary here. St. Bernadette was plagued with asthma and ill health her entire life, and she died at 35. But it was after her death that the miracle came. In 1909, 30 years after her death, Bernadette’s body was exhumed in preparation for her beatification. It was found to be completely incorrupt. It was later exhumed in 1919 and 1925 and found in the same condition. Today, her body is kept — still incorrupt — in the convent where she died in Nevers, France.

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Virtual pilgrimage
To see scores of photos of this famed pilgrimage site, go to maps.google.com and search for “Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes,” and you will find 360-degree views inside and oustide the sanctuary. Or to participate in a virtual pilgrimage as a group, visit lourdesvolunteers.org.

Bonus Sites in France
The Sanctuary of St. Bernadette Soubirous of Nevers; Mont St. Michel; La Salette-Fallavaux; and the Shrine of Our Lady of Laus.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Jerusalem

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The majority of the New Testament and Jesus’ ministry takes place in Israel, with his passion taking place in the city of Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is another church commissioned by St. Helena as she made her way through the Holy Land in search of the sacred sites associated with Jesus and his ministry. Tradition has it that she found three crosses in a cistern and identified the cross belonging to Jesus when it healed a man who was close to death. She had this church built atop the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, the cistern and the tomb where Jesus’ dead body lay for three days before his resurrection.

Needless to say, the church is massive, and as one of the holiest sites — some might say the holiest — in the world, it is often filled with pilgrims. Still, nothing should dissuade a Christian from visiting this site. Here, Our Lord made the ultimate sacrifice to redeem our sins. Pilgrims can climb steep steps to the Chapel of the Crucifixion, where they can touch the very rock that held the cross of our crucified Lord and enter a small room and venerate a stone placed atop the stone where his body lay before he resurrected from the dead. You can even stay in the Church overnight — no sleeping! If you get the chance, don’t miss it.

There are many chapels inside of this church that are dedicated to different aspects of Christ’s passion — but my favorite (aside from the tomb and Calvary) is the one dedicated to Adam. Tradition holds that Adam was buried below the rock of Golgotha long ago. When Jesus died and the earth quaked, the rock was split, and Jesus’ blood trickled down onto Adam’s bones, redeeming him of the original sin. It’s beyond mind-blowing to take this all in.

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Virtual pilgrimage
A 3-D audio and video tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher can be found at jerusalem.com/tour/holy_sepulchre_3D/web.

Bonus Sites in Jerusalem
Jerusalem — and Israel — is full of sacred sites. Some of my favorites are the Garden of Gethsemane, the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth’s Basilica of the Annunciation, and Capernaum, where Jesus lived during his ministry.

Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

Fatima, Portugal

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On May 13, 1917, the Mother of God met three little children who were shepherding their flocks at the Cova da Iria in the small village of Fatima, Portugal. She asked them to meet her there on the 13th of every month for the next five months, and asked if they would be willing to offer themselves to God and to make many sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. They said “yes.” On May 13th, 2017, in the little village of Fatima, where millions of pilgrims visit the magnificent shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis canonized two of those little shepherds — Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the youngest nonmartyr saints ever to be canonized in the history of the Catholic Church.

What makes this place special, and why does it matter today, 100 years later? The answer I give you here is only a taste of the wonderful joy there is to be felt in Fatima. It is a place steeped in the love of the Blessed Virgin. Locals call it the Altar of the World, and since prayers go up to heaven from here 24/7, the name is apt.

Where the Cova da Iria once provided Lucia Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, a place to graze their sheep, today it provides pilgrims a place to refresh their minds, bodies and souls in the love of God and his Blessed Mother. There’s a newly refurbished basilica, where the physical remains of the three shepherds reside, and the newer, more modern Basilica of the Holy Trinity, where thousands of pilgrims can praise God and find shelter from Fatima’s storms. There’s the Loco do Anjo, where the children met the Angel of Portugal, who taught them to pray, and Aljustrel, where the children grew up and where Francisco died. Even if you can’t visit Fatima in 2017, it’ll be there the year after and the year after that, providing pilgrims with a place to pray the Rosary, to make reparation for sin and to offer up their suffering for the conversion of sinners, just like the Mother of God asked us to do.

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Virtual pilgrimage
To explore the sites and the history of the apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, visit the shrine’s official website at www.fatima.pt/en.

Bonus Sites in Portugal
Portugal is full of sacred sites, many of which are a short drive from Fatima, including the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha, the Eucharistic Miracle at Santarem, the Convento do Cristo in Tomar, and the beautiful seaside shrine to the Blessed Mother in Nazaré.

The California Missions

Various cities along California’s Pacific coast

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Having recently returned from filming all 22 California missions for our next series of “The Faithful Traveler,” I can honestly say I can’t pick a favorite. Maybe Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, because it was the first and because I grew up with it, having been born in San Diego. But even then, I think all Catholics should visit the missions the first chance they get, not only because California is amazing and a great place to visit year-round, but because the history of St. Junipero Serra and his faithful companions bringing Catholicism to Native Americans on the West Coast is so inspirational. The missions are simply breathtaking. Even though many have been rebuilt over the centuries, there is still much to appreciate.

These friars built missions to minister to the Native Americans they found in this new land, beginning in San Diego and moving north along El Camino Real (the Royal Road). Along the way, they blessed this future state with the patronage of the saints to whom the missions — and later cities — were dedicated: San Diego, San Luis Rey de Francia, San Gabriel Arcángel, San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Francisco and more! Even California’s state capital, Sacramento, is named after the Blessed Sacrament!

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Virtual pilgrimage
The website of the California Missions Foundation offers an interactive map that allows visitors to click on each mission to view photos and find out about its history. For more, visit californiamissionsfoundation.org/the-california-missions.

Bonus Sites in California
Here are some of my favorite California sacred sites: Carmelite House of Prayer (Oakville), National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi (San Francisco), Our Lady of the Rosary (San Diego), Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph (San Jose), St. Andrew Church (Pasadena), St. Vincent Church (Los Angeles) and St. Ignatius Parish (San Francisco).

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Mexico City

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If you don’t know the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I encourage you to read about it immediately. It is beyond amazing, and it shows Mary’s gentleness, lovingness, creativity, determination and power.

In December 1531, 10 years after the fall of the Aztec Empire, the Virgin Mary, dressed as a pregnant Aztec princess, appeared to Juan Diego, a recent convert to Catholicism. She called him “Juanito,” which means little Juan, and asked him to tell the bishop to build a church in her honor. After much anxiety and a few miracles, Juan succeeded in convincing the bishop when he opened his tilma (or poncho) to give him the Castilian roses he picked atop Tepeyac Hill — a miracle in and of itself, as they should not have been in bloom. When the bishop saw the image of the Mother of God imprinted on Juan’s tilma, he fell to his knees.

That very tilma can still be seen and venerated in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. That tilma, made of cactus fibers, is more than 450 years old. It should have disintegrated by now. It should have been destroyed by the bomb that exploded underneath it in the 1920s. That tilma shows the stars as they were on that miraculous night imprinted on the Virgin’s veil, the reflection of Juan and the bishop in her eyes, and so many more astonishing things. That miraculous garment converted the hearts of an entire country. May it continue to convert the hearts of us all.

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Virtual pilgrimage
For a multitude of photos, including 360-degree images from inside the basilica, go to maps.google.com and search for “Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Bonus Sites in Mexico
Although my parents were born in Mexico, I’ve yet to visit this amazing shrine. When I do, I also plan to see these beautiful churches: Catedral Metropolitana, Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, Sagrada Familia, Templo de San Hipólito y San Casiano, and the ultra-modern church dedicated to St. Josemaría Escriva.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Washington, D.C.

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Not all amazing sacred sites are outside of our country. We are blessed to have the magnificent Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in our own nation’s capital. A visit to this shrine never fails to astound.

The National Shrine is made up of an upper and a lower level, each lined with chapels and statues dedicated to the Virgin Mary under some of her many apparitions and titles, including: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Lourdes, the Miraculous Medal, Bethlehem, Fatima, Divine Providence, Queen of Our Hearts, Mother of Perpetual Help, Mother of Good Counsel. They’re all here. As are saints who had devotion to her: Pope St. Pius X, Sts. Anthony Mary Claret, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Thérèse of Lisieux, Catherine of Siena, Dominic, Ignatius of Loyola, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Frances Xavier Cabrini, Kateri Tekakwitha, Rose Philippine Duchesne, Katharine Drexel and more.

The Crypt Church on the lower level is reminiscent of the secret catacombs early Christians used to celebrate Mass while the early Church was being persecuted. It’s even lined with images of early Christian martyrs and saints — those whose blood watered the seeds of our faith.

The Great Upper Church features many mosaics, including a massive one of Christ in Majesty, his arms outstretched. Archbishop John F. Noll, founder of Our Sunday Visitor, raised about $7 million for the construction of the church.

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Virtual pilgrimage
Visit nationalshrine.com and click on the “Visit” tab to see 360-degree views of the Great Upper Church, the Crypt Church and the basilica’s exterior.

Bonus Sites in Washington, D.C.
The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle is beautiful and historic. It is where President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass was held. The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America and the Pope St. John Paul II National Shrine are also great places to visit.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Rome

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This list began with a Church built atop the site of Jesus’ birth. It ends with a Church built atop the burial site of St. Peter, the man who took the keys to the kingdom and set the world on fire.

St. Peter’s Basilica is overwhelming, and it should be. As you walk the nave and gaze at the art all around you, you realize that you’re not just looking at pretty sacred art, and you’re not just walking above a foundation. These chapels are created by art history’s giants — Bramante, Bernini, Michelangelo — and they honor some of the Church’s greatest popes and saints: St. Ignatius of Antioch, Pope Sts. Leo and Gregory the Greats, and Pope Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII. Oh, and don’t forget St. Peter buried beneath the altar.

Colossal and realistic statues of the founders of religious orders line the nave, and surrounding the immense baldachin — created by none other than Bernini — are statues of saints with some of Christendom’s most sacred relics housed above them. Above St. Helena is a piece of the true cross and holy nails; above St. Longinus is rumored to be the spear that pierced the side of Christ; above St. Veronica is the veil on which Jesus’ face was imprinted during his passion; and above St. Andrew is a piece of St. Andrew’s X-shaped Cross, on which this brother of St. Peter was crucified.

It’s impossible to describe the richness of the treasures of our faith enclosed in this one building — and I don’t mean treasures of art, gold or jewels. The spiritual wealth housed here is priceless. It’s not for nothing that the road leading to St. Peter’s is called the via della Conciliazione — the Way of Reconciliation. Being surrounded by the men and women of St. Peter’s made me want to confess, even though I’d been to confession the day before. Being in God’s presence does that to you, I guess.

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Virtual pilgrimage
The Vatican’s website has a stunning, high-definition virtual tour of St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica. Find it at http://bit.ly/1vhruTq.

Bonus Sites in Rome
Rome has literally hundreds of Catholic Churches to see. Here are some of my favorites: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Sant’Ignazio, Basilica of the Holy Cross, Basilica San Clemente; St. Mary Major, the Holy Stairs, the Basilica of St. John Lateran and Santa Maria della Vittoria.