Pilgrimage Updates

Jesus’ Heart Is for All His People

One month into the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, I am almost ashamed to admit that when I first heard that this Pilgrimage would extend from coast to coast, my heart jumped at how BIG this would be, the media attention it would garner, and how everyone would know about Jesus after a two-month Eucharistic procession. Something like a Catholic Super Bowl!

Instead, I’ve realized it is so much more than that. The Super Bowl is an annual experience that gathers fans across the country around a single championship game of the NFL each February. For advertisers, it’s about taking advantage of our attention while millions of eyes are glued to the screen for the duration of the game. When it’s over, it’s over until the next year, when we do it all again.  

This Pilgrimage of Jesus across our country is not about getting attention for a cause. For those who join it as it passes through their city, it isn’t a two- to three-hour rallying of excitement and faith.  

It is, instead, a gift.

As one young woman put it after participating in three days of the Pilgrimage in three different locations, “Each experience has been so different. In one place, we went through a small town and there were about 20 people in the procession. In another place, we went through a rough neighborhood; in a third place, we were hundreds and thousands of people. I just kept thinking, Jesus really comes to all people. It doesn’t matter who you are. He comes to all people.”

Eucharistic procession into a church

A Pilgrimage Triggers Something Inward

A pilgrimage, as Fr. Michael Fuller, the General Secretary of the USCCB, stated in his homily at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, “is something outward that triggers something inward.” On one of the loveliest days this month, faith-filled women, men, and children, teens, young adults, and the elderly, religious, priests, and bishops, all packed into the Basilica for Mass at 8:00 AM until it was standing room only. Sr. Emily Beata, FSP shares her experience of that morning. “I looked around at the crowds of people in the National Shrine and thought how incredible and beautiful it was that each of us was bringing something to this Pilgrimage, and each of us was about to be invited by Jesus to an interior journey.”

“I was able to participate in the Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Baltimore,” says Zachary Keith. “Seeing the streets of Baltimore shut down for us to walk through was pretty incredible. My favorite part of the Pilgrimage, though, was when we were passing by a construction site. The workers even a few floors up paused their work as we walked by and showed an interest in the procession, curious about what was happening. There were many people in Baltimore who seemed surprised by the whole procession, and some of them even displayed their Catholic roots, pausing to pray for a moment as we went past.”

These may seem like once-in-a-lifetime experiences for many, but remarkably, as Fr. Fuller reminds us, they are Jesus’ invitations, the stirrings of grace, the powerful movements of the Spirit that transform human hearts through lifelong journeys. The language of the heart is quiet, the grace of God is patient, the movements toward the new creation sometimes subtle and unseen. But they are real and true. God works miracles of recreation all the time in souls that are open to his grace—and the effects are literally life-changing.

Laity and religious sisters kneeling in pews praying inside a church

Our Daily Eucharistic Processions

I’ve been thinking about how, in reality, Eucharistic processions happen daily, and all of us, as we leave Mass, are part of this unending Eucharistic giving of Jesus to the world. Each of us is certainly not being sent forth from the church with a monstrance and canopy, candles and incense. As one Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia reflected (in line with Pope Benedict XVI’s thinking), the first Eucharistic procession was carried out by Mary as she went forth, carrying Jesus in the tabernacle of her womb, to care for her cousin Elizabeth who needed a little extra help. As Catholics leave Mass in cities and small rural towns, our Eucharistic processions look like this Eucharistic charity of the Virgin Mary. We each bring Jesus into the lives and homes and situations of people we care about and minister too.

Sr. Elinor Gardner, O.P. joined the Eucharistic caravan in Corpus Christi, which included a blessing of those incarcerated in a correctional facility along the procession route. “I thought of how in all of our works of mercy, it is Jesus who visits the sick and the imprisoned, who teaches and heals. He unites himself to us in Holy Communion and makes us his emissaries in the world.”

Priest raising a monstrance in blessing over a crowd of people outside a church

Our daily Eucharistic pilgrimages, yours and mine, can be as humble as Mary’s: taking time to listen, offering to drive someone to an appointment, cleaning your parents’ place when you visit, preparing a child for First Communion or making sure that Communion is brought to a person who is ill, inviting someone to go to adoration with you, being a friend to someone who is lonely.... The list is as long and even more touching in its vulnerability and sacrifice than the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

In this way too, the Pilgrimage is not a grand moment of entertainment that ends after the final touchdown is scored. As one pilgrim put it, after joining the Seton Route, “I keep thinking about how Jesus is still walking with me, with us, with so many people.”  

May each person who joined the “official” National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, and each of us who bring Jesus daily to the world in the Marian key of the Visitation, “continue walking on this glorious adventure that Jesus is leading us on.”