The continental US will be “blessed” with the Sign of the Cross next year, as walking pilgrims converge on the National Eucharist Congress in Indiana from points North, East, South and West.
The National Eucharistic Revival today announced a pilgrimage to begin next May, two months ahead of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. The National Eucharstic Pilgrimage will be looking for 48 volunteers to devote at least 60 days to the endeavor, accompanying the Blessed Sacrament full time from four different starting points around the country.
Others will be able to join the pilgrimage for smaller distances along the way in a less formal manner.
The announcement was made May 17, the feast of St. Paschal Baylon, patron of Eucharistic Congresses.
The Eucharistic Revival, a plan approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is an answer to dismal survey results of several years back, apparently showing a declining belief among Catholics in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A three-year program of formation and education will culminate in a Eucharistic Congress at Lucas Oil Stadium, the first event of its kind in 83 years.
Pilgrimage organizers said that the routes will have themes based on the history of Catholicism in America.:
1- East: The Seton Route, named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity and the parochial school system in the U.S., will begin at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, burial place of the founder of the Knights of Columbus, Blessed Michael McGivney.
2- South: The Juan Diego Route, named for the visionary who saw Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531, will begin at Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville, Texas.
3- West: The Serra Route, named for St. Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary who spread the faith throughout California and who was canonized by Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., will begin at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco.
4- North: The Marian Route will kick off at Lake Itasca, the headwater of the Mississippi River.
“Ultimately from the four routes we’ll have covered over 6,500 miles, and that of course will not all be walked,” said Will Peterson, director of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, in a call with media last week. “There will be aspects of driving some of that just to make sure that we’re able to get” to Indianapolis by July 17, the opening of the Congress.
That would be the case especially in the case of the Serra Route, at over 2,200 miles the longest, which also includes trekking over the Rocky Mountains.
Organizers are calling the pilgrimage “our national Emmaus moment,” likening the experience to Jesus’ walk with some of his followers after the Passion.
“Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus accompanied two disciples on their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus — walking with them in their grief, offering hope, and finally revealing himself through the breaking of the bread. This is an opportunity for Catholics around the United States to have an encounter with Jesus as those disciples did on the road to Emmaus,” according to promotional literature.
Organizers envision each route to be walked by 12 “perpetual pilgrims,” most likely young people who have the endurance and the ability to devote two months of their time to the feat. Each group would include two seminarians and have the presence of a priest for daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, confession and formation.
The core pilgrims are envisioned as being Catholics between the ages of 19-29, said Peterson, and would “serve as leaders along the route to help take part in parish prayer services, share testimonies, apologetics around the Eucharist and just be catalysts in a lot of ways along these routes, just engaging with Catholics in all regions of the United States, and then be sent forth right after the Congress, as all Congress participants will be, but these special young adult missionaries back into their communities to really engage and just bring the movement to the revival even deeper into the hearts of young people.”
They might also give testimony at the congress itself.
The starting date for the walking pilgrimage is May 18, 2024, which, in addition to being the day after the feast of St. Paschal Baylon is the vigil of Pentecost. It is also the birth anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II, author of the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.
The next day, in each of the four starting cities, there will be processions with local parishioners to start the pilgrims on the right foot. On the Serra Route, that might very well mean a Eucharist procession across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Each group of pilgrims will make stops at significant shrines and other points of interest, as well. The Seton Route might be able to stop at Ellis Island, for example, to commemorate the history of immigration, which brought so many Catholics to these shores. The Marian Route is likely to have a Eucharistic procession at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, where, as the Vatican recently affirmed, Mary appeared in 1859.
“That really drives our naming that northern route the Marian Route,” Peterson said.
Looking for hosts
Hosts are being solicited to put pilgrims up each night along the way: parishes, religious orders, schools, retreat centers, and shrines, as well as ordinary family homes.
“We’re looking at 1,000 hosts, more or less,” said Peterson.
Those who cannot walk the pilgrimage can take part, for example, by praying on their own or in parish groups. “We really do believe that we could have over 100,000 people participate,” Peterson said.