Revival Stories

What a Pilgrimage Abroad Teaches Us About the Eucharist at Home

In the months prior to the launch of the national Eucharistic Revival, the priests of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, gathered in Bishop James D. Conley’s home for a discussion: what could be done to foster a deeper love of the Eucharist, especially in this three-year period of nationwide renewal?

Fr. Ben Holdren had an idea. He had just returned from a pilgrimage with the diocese to Mexico City. The five-day journey consisted of mornings with Mass, Eucharistic adoration, and time spent in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and afternoons spent in service to the poorest in the city. His group returned on fire for their faith and energized to evangelize—and the bishop loved that idea so much that in October 2022, Fr. Holdren organized three pilgrimages of the same structure for over ninety Nebraskan pilgrims to engage in Eucharistic Revival!

Clear Encounters

These groups—ranging from seventh graders to seventy-year-olds—may have entered Mexico City as strangers to one another and to its community, but by the end of those days, they were pilgrims journeying together in their service of the poor and their renewed love of the Eucharist.

The Consecration at an outdoor mass

Hannah Heinrich, a fourteen-year-old pilgrim, marveled that “encountering Jesus never seemed so real until you encounter him in the eyes of the poor.” Zoe Doerneman, another young pilgrim, was deeply moved as she witnessed tears of joy in those she served while they received the Eucharist. Seeing the immense love of the poor for the Blessed Sacrament showed her sister, Lola, what a gift her easy access to the Eucharist is every day back home in Nebraska.

As often as we hear the two connected with each other—the Catechism of the Catholic Church even says that “the Eucharist commits us to the poor”—it’s powerful to see it firsthand. Fr. Holden hopes that all the pilgrims recall the benefits of a tandem love for the Eucharist and the poor: “Deliberately focusing on seeing Jesus in the poor in front of me, I hope the takeaway is that it’s very exciting when we start spending time in silence with Jesus and the transformation he works in our hearts.”

Revival at Home

We don’t have to travel by plane, train, or charter bus to experience the graces of this realization, Fr. Holdren affirms. “The beautiful thing about the Eucharist is that we don’t have to go down to Mexico City, hundreds of miles away. We can just go to the closest church. That’s what Jesus opened up for us in instituting the Eucharist. To be with our God, we only have to go to the nearest tabernacle.”

The monstrance in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our busy days of classes, work, and social or familial obligations often mean that this desire to connect with our Eucharistic Lord that is in our hearts is challenging to put into action. Buying a plane ticket and taking time off from everyday life might seem more feasible than squeezing in a little chapel visit!

Even on our most packed days, we are part of the pilgrim Church, and as part of integrating mission into our daily life, coming back to our Source and Summit (Lumen Gentium 11) is absolutely essential. The Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church states:

“The mission of the Church, therefore, is fulfilled by that activity which makes her, obeying the command of Christ and influenced by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, fully present to all men or nations, in order that, by the example of her life and by her preaching, by the sacraments and other means of grace, she may lead them to the faith, the freedom and the peace of Christ; that thus there may lie open before them a firm and free road to full participation in the mystery of Christ” (5).

An Intentional Effort

Setting an earlier alarm to attend daily Mass or a timer to visit a chapel (or even calling a church to ask if they would unlock their doors) actually helps with the busyness of our days—especially in our dealings with others. It helps us allow Sunday to begin our week and Sunday Mass to become our primary scheduling priority. As Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church reflects: “The person who shares worthily in the Eucharist is enabled more and more to live the new law of love given by Christ precisely because Christ communicates himself in the sacrament of the altar… we receive grace that enables us to imitate the love that Christ shows us” (34).

Allowing Jesus to carve out time for personal moments of retreat during our normal days helps us to receive the fruitful graces of pilgrimage into our daily lives. Our open hearts are transformed to embrace God’s will, bit by bit, and are filled with the love that we are called to share with friends, family, and the poor right in our community.

When we approach the Eucharist each day with this desire in our hearts, even if only for a few minutes, it’s as if we’re on pilgrimage, full of joyful sacrifice and creative openness.

Two individuals in prayer before the tabernacle

“A mission trip pulls us away from the busyness... and carves out space,” Fr. Holdren concludes, “With the craziness of daily life, sometimes it’s more of a sacrifice to set aside that time [than to go on a mission trip]. That would be a great thing all of us could pray for: “Jesus, I give you permission to carve out the space for me so that I would spend time with you in silence in the Eucharist and allow you to transform me.”

The spring of 2024 will see a Eucharistic pilgrimage within our own country in anticipation of and leading to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. As we make retreats in our own days, let us keep in prayer all who are a part of this pilgrimage—past, present, and future—as they prepare for this journey of Eucharistic faith and missionary service.