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On the Pilgrims' Path

Two months, four processions, one thousand churches, six thousand miles

Thousands of U.S. Catholics marked Pentecost weekend by partaking in the launch of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, a first-of-its kind series of four coast-to-coast, border-to-border processions celebrating the source and summit of our Faith, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Described as a "fusion of the journey to Jesus and the journey with Jesus," the pilgrimage is drawing together faithful "from the north, south, east, and west edges of our country" in "an adventure" in which every U.S. Catholic can participate, "either by interior disposition or physical accompaniment."

Launching simultaneously in New Haven, Connecticut; San Francisco, California; Bemidji, Minnesota; and Brownsville, Texas; over the next two months the processions will cover a combined 6,000 miles. Along the way, they will visit one thousand host churches, as well as dozens of holy sites, shrines and universities, before converging on July 16 in Indianapolis — site of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress. The first national Eucharistic assembly since 1941, the July 17-21 congress — expected to draw 80,000 Catholics to America's heartland — will serve as the culmination of the National Eucharistic Revival, a multi-year initiative to reignite flagging faith in the Real Presence.

On the Feast of Pentecost, Souls and Liberty Action Network Director, Debra Tvrdik, had the opportunity to join pilgrims on the 'Seton Route,' as the eastern procession is called, as it made its way through the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Portions of her dispatch follow below.

Along the 'Seton Route'

The eastern arm of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), a Eucharistic convert. Raised a Protestant, Seton was drawn to the Faith by the Real Presence; following her conversion to Catholicism, she established the Sisters of Charity, America's first congregation of religious sisters, and set up the nation's first Catholic girls' school, laying the foundation for the parochial school system in the United States. In 1975, she was canonized by the Catholic Church, becoming the first American-born person to be declared a saint.

Kicking off in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut on Saturday, May 18, the 'Seton Route' pilgrimage began at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, with an extended Pentecost Vigil Mass led by Abp. Christopher Coyne. Addressing a group of 'perpetual pilgrims' — those who will accompany the Blessed Sacrament for the duration of its two-month journey to Indianapolis — Abp. Coyne described their "pilgrimage to the Eucharist" as "one with the Holy Spirit as well."

"It is the Holy Spirit that will raise you on each of your ways so that your feet will not stumble, and your body will stay on the path."

"It is the Holy Spirit that will raise you on each of your ways so that your feet will not stumble, and your body will stay on the path," the archbishop assured the group, reminding them that the "first breath of the Holy Spirit given to you in baptism" will aid "in your exertions along the way to persevere to joyous completion."

Following Mass, Seton Route chaplain Fr. Roger Landry led the faithful in a Eucharistic procession through the neighborhood surrounding the church. Afterward, pilgrims gathered again at St. Mary's, where teams took turns standing watch, adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night, with a special hour devoted to young adults.

The following morning, the faithful accompanied the Blessed Sacrament in a mile-and-a-half-long procession to St. Joseph's Church in New Haven, where a Pentecost Mass was celebrated. Afterward, the Eucharist was processed to Long Wharf, where a group of perpetual pilgrims joined it aboard a small boat; from the New Haven waterfront, the contingent sailed south into Long Island Sound, crossing from the Archdiocese of Hartford into the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Landing at Bridgeport Pier at mid-day, the Blessed Sacrament was greeted by a throng of priests, nuns and laity — Tvrdik, among them.

"Every flavor of Catholic was represented," Tvrdik recalled. "From children just beginning to learn our rich Faith to Sunday Mass-'only' attendees — the turnout was fantastic!"

Harnessing Pentecost, she added, "is such a genius Catholic way to feed the Eucharistic Revival!"

Enthroned in a monstrance designed especially for the Seton Route pilgrimage, the Eucharist was brought ashore and took its place at the head of a new procession — fittingly, to Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, a small, diverse parish in the city's economically-distressed East End, where Bp. Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport led the crowd in an hour of Eucharistic Adoration.

Blessed Sacrament's inclusion in the procession was a point of pride for parishioners. Speaking to the Bridgeport diocesan newspaper, pastor Fr. Joseph Karcsinski explained:

"We are a Catholic presence in an area that was industry and is now abandoned in many, many ways. But the bishop has asked us to maintain a Catholic presence in this area ... And we accept that as a mandate. We feel very strongly about ecumenism and being present and active with ... the other churches in the area. We have to stand shoulder to shoulder because of the institution around us. But we're very, very conscious of being a Catholic presence here and upholding our faith and our tradition."

From Blessed Sacrament, the procession — Bp. Caggiano, included — proceeded to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, a parish administered by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, a society of apostolic life devoted to the Tridentine Rite, which celebrates Mass exclusively in Latin.

There, a second Holy Hour was held — this one incorporating the Solemn Vespers of Pentecost. The inclusion of Vespers dazzled participants — including Tvrdik, who described the Holy Hour as "stunningly beautiful."

In remarks to the Bridgeport diocesan newspaper, Canon Francis Altiere, rector of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, underscored the wider significance of Sunday's event:

"Eucharistic processions are an important way, first of all, for Catholics to revitalize our own faith, gives us an opportunity to make reparation, especially for sacrileges and negligence towards the Blessed Sacrament. But also now living in a world that's very indifferent or even just ignorant of the faith, a public procession like this is a good opportunity also to share the faith. It's important for the Catholics of Bridgeport, but whether they know it or not, it's also very important for the non-Catholics of Bridgeport."

From Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the procession moved on to St. Mary Catholic Church, where a bilingual Holy Hour was offered, with prayers, including the Litany of the Sacred Heart, alternating in English and Spanish. reflecting the parish's predominately Hispanic composition.

As afternoon gave way to evening, the procession picked up again, heading to St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, a largely Polish parish, where a Eucharistic station was held outdoors, with the Blessed Sacrament adored according to Polish tradition.

From St. Michael the Archangel, the procession continued on to the day's fifth and final Bridgeport sanctuary, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. There, an hour of Adoration followed, replete with the reading of Scripture, a Eucharist-centered homily, Benediction and the Litany of the Sacred Heart. Afterward, a host of pilgrims remained, keeping vigil with Christ throughout the night.

Reflecting on her experience in Bridgeport on Sunday, Tvrdik was unequivocal in her assessment: Diocesan organizers "knocked it out of the park."

"The whole day — from the arrival of the Blessed Sacrament aboard the boat, to the incredibly reverent Vespers offered at Sts. Cyril and Methodius, to the all-night vigil at St. Charles Borromeo — the whole day was a day of remarkable beauty," she said.

"Most participants went to all of the events and witnessed the ways each parish community worships our God," Tvrdik noted.

Among the most gratifying aspects, she added, was that "Bp. Caggiano was present at all the events!"

The Seton Route pilgrimage will continue its trek westward across the Diocese of Bridgeport until the evening of May 22, when it crosses over into the Archdiocese of New York.

The Empire State and Beyond

The procession's upcoming entry into New York will magnify its visibility many times over, with a host of high-profile events scheduled to take place across America's largest city.

These include Mass at St. Frances Cabrini Shrine in Manhattan on the afternoon of May 25, followed by a procession across the Upper East Side, and an early-evening stop for Benediction at the famed Naumburg Bandshell in the heart of Central Park. The following day will prove equally momentous, with morning Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown, followed by a procession southward to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine in Manhattan's Financial District. The day's probable highlight — at least from an aesthetic perspective — will come later that afternoon, when the procession will pause for Benediction on the Brooklyn Bridge itself.

Tvrdik, her appetite whetted by Sunday's experience in Bridgeport, plans to accompany the procession throughout Manhattan from May 25-26, and is calling on all New York City-area Catholics to do the same. "If you are in the area, please join us!" she said. "This will be a spiritually life-changing event!"

From the Archdiocese of New York, the Seton Route pilgrimage will continue on into the Diocese of Brooklyn before exiting the Empire State on its way to the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton in New Jersey. From there, it will head to Pennsylvania, visiting parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Harrisburg, before crossing into Maryland, where it will traverse the nation's oldest diocese, the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It will then proceed to the Archdiocese of Washington for a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and a procession through the streets of the nation's capital. Afterward, it will return to Pennsylvania, heading westward across the Dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown, Greensburg, and Pittsburgh, before crossing into West Virginia's Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. From there, it will enter Ohio, where it will visit the Dioceses of Steubenville, Columbus and Cincinnati, before moving on to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where it will spend its final week traversing eastern and central Indiana in the lead-up to the July 16 concluding Mass at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis.

All along the way, even at parishes outside the procession's official route, events designed to further communal and individual Eucharistic devotion will take place — a groundswell of prayer that Tvrdik applauds.

"By processing the actual Heart of Jesus outside our churches, we're testifying to a broken America about the importance of the Eucharist," she reflected. "That's putting the Great Commission into action, and calling the lost home."

Writer, editor and producer Stephen Wynne has spent the past seven years covering, from a Catholic perspective, the latest developments in the Church, the nation and the world. Prior to his work in journalism, he spent eight years co-authoring “Repairing the Breach,” a book examining the war of worldviews between Christianity and Darwinism. A Show-Me State native, he holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pepperdine University and an Executive MBA from the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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