Pilgrimage Updates

We Are on Pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem

As he addressed the crowd who had filled St. Mary of Mercy Church in Pittsburgh, Fr. Roger Landry recently spoke to a question that perhaps a lot of people are asking of the Eucharistic pilgrimage: “Why do we do this?”

Why are Catholics gathering around Jesus to follow him in this very public demonstration of devotion and faith right down the streets of our cities and towns and in our village squares? Why don’t we just stay in our churches?

This two-month Eucharistic pilgrimage is making visible the meaning of the whole Church as pilgrim, the people of God as a people on the move through history. As Pope Francis said: “The Church on earth is on a pilgrimage to heaven guided by the Lord, who will lead us to the fullness of joy and truth at the end of time.”

Priest processing with a monstrance inside a packed Catholic church
Seton Route – photo by Edwin Lucero

A Church Always on the Move

On June 14, Sister Rochelle Kerkhof of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity was at St. Luke Church in the Lincoln Diocese, Nebraska, where a vast congregation from nearby states had gathered. After Mass, a large number joined the pilgrimage for the mile to the edge of town for Benediction, praying the Rosary, singing hymns, and enjoying moments of reflection and quiet conversation. She recounts: “After Benediction, a young mother, who was in a wheelchair being pushed by her husband, and accompanied by her children and grandparents, approached the Eucharist together and prayed silently for a cure. As they circled in prayer, many people in the group gathered around and prayed for her. All remained in silence for a long time. Eventually, the pilgrimage moved to the next stop, and people began to disperse. As that was happening, one of the priests told those walking six miles to Roscoe that he would be lagging behind the group in order that anyone who wished to go to confession could walk with him along the way. The spiritual witnessing of God's Holy Spirit and Jesus' presence was [palpable].”

The Church, as pilgrim, journeys within history, not outside of it. Thus the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is taking place on very real streets, passing by individuals who are offered the invitation to either look or look away. The pilgrimage is one great prayer for our country and for all those whom the Good Samaritan is seeking to heal and love along the way.

As Father Landry put it, “the ultimate reason for why we are doing this pilgrimage is because the Church, the Bride of the Body of Christ, is a pilgrim Church on earth. We’re not static because the Lord Jesus is always moving as the Good Samaritan across the road to save.”

Eucharistic procession on a busy city street
Juan Diego Route – photo by Meagan Martin

Journeying Together in Eucharistic Friendship

As Catholics, we are a journeying people. Journeying toward the Kingdom of God, the Church walks with purpose on her travels through today’s cultural upheaval and societal violence, where relationships are breaking under the strain of war and fear and hopelessness.... This Eucharistic procession is waking us up to this: “This is the ultimate meaning of our Christian pilgrimage: we set out on a journey to discover the love of God and at the same time to discover ourselves” (Pope Francis, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, April 21, 2024).

Sr. Mary Martha, FSP, who joined the Eucharistic caravan in New Orleans, shared: “After Mass in an overflowing St. Louis Cathedral, we followed Jesus in a procession that made its way around Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Because the crowd following Our Lord was so large, it was hard to see the Blessed Sacrament, and as those in the front of the procession turned the corner, I lost all sight of him. Thinking to myself, ‘Hmmm. I can't even get a glimpse of him, but I'm with all these people who are following in faith just like me.’ Then a friend sidled up to me and whispered, ‘I can't see Jesus.’ I looked at her and said, ‘But we know that those in front of us know where to go!’ and smiling, we kept walking. In life, we sometimes lose sight of the Lord, but even then, when we stay close to his Church, remain in his Mystical Body, we are carried by a crowd of witnesses to wherever we are supposed to be! What a blessing it is to belong to Jesus and his people.”

Commenting on this through another lens, David Spesia puts into focus the way we are all called on this pilgrimage of life to “Eucharistic friendship.” “Along the DC pilgrimage, my wife and I met someone from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As we prayed, sang, and talked along the way, we had great conversations about the joys and challenges of accompanying our adult children in these times. We both have five children, and as we departed each other at the end of the day we promised to pray for each other’s families, determined to stay in touch.”

Outdoor Eucharistic procession with mountains in the background
Serra Route – photo by Anthony Mazur

En Route to the Heavenly Jerusalem

Such friendships are a small “sampling” of the seeds of the “new heaven” and the “new earth” toward which we are walking at the end of history, when the whole universe will be renewed and will be freed once and for all from every trace of evil and from death itself.

“We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 39).

We are on pilgrimage because those who do not yet know Jesus want to see his face and hear his voice. And as a pilgrim Church, we are part of how that happens for other people who long to find hope, meaning, and mercy for their lives and families.

As Father Landry put it, “The Risen Lord Jesus accompanies us at every moment of the pilgrimage, not to Pittsburgh, not to Indianapolis, but to the Heavenly Jerusalem. So that is what we are about.”