Wednesday, June 19, 2024

‘A Vision of the Kingdom of God’: National Eucharistic Pilgrimage Bears Witness in Diocese of Harrisburg

Winding through the streets of southeastern Adams County and southwestern York County on a hot and humid June day, the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage drew hundreds of local participants in an impressive public witness to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Led by clergy carrying the Holy Eucharist in a gilded monstrance, the pilgrimage made its way through the Diocese of Harrisburg on Tuesday, June 4, with a group of participants from throughout the country making their way to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis July 17-21.

Walking on what has been named the Seton Route – one of four routes journeying across the country – the pilgrims began their travels in Connecticut on May 17. Along the way to Indianapolis, they are making stops at various churches and historic Catholic sites for prayer and Adoration while sharing the message of God’s love for us through the Eucharist.

“This pilgrimage is so radical and so crazy, and I’m glad that it is, because it’s a witness in and of itself,” said Dominic Carstens, a pilgrim from the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

“It makes people look at us and ask, ‘Why would they do this? Why would they give so much time and energy and sacrifice?’ I want them to ask those things, because then they can think for a moment and realize we’re out here because the Eucharist is truly Christ. I hope they see our love for the Lord, and that love makes them want to find Christ, too.”

The pilgrimage began Tuesday morning with the celebration of Mass and a breakfast at Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in New Oxford, where the perpetual pilgrims had arrived the night before. Local parishioners provided housing for the group, accompanied by their chaplain, Father Roger Landry. He is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, and is the Catholic chaplain at Columbia University in New York.

With the Blessed Sacrament leading the way, hundreds of parishioners joined in the local procession. Some walked the entire route, while others joined for segments or drove from site to site in a spirit of prayer and support.

At the historic Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, located in Conewago Township, the pilgrims stopped for lunch and participated in mid-day prayer and Adoration.

In the heat of the afternoon, the group then journeyed through the neighborhoods of Hanover, passing by Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown on their way to St. Vincent de Paul Church in Hanover, where dozens of faithful prayed the Rosary and awaited the pilgrims’ arrival.

Sitting on the front lawn of St. Vincent’s during a brief respite along the 10-mile pilgrimage, Carstens, 22, was invigorated despite the walk in the near-90 degree heat of the afternoon.

“I’m out here because He loved me first. The love God has made present to me through His presence in the Eucharist is my reason for being out here,” he said.

With six weeks remaining in the pilgrimage, Carstens said he finds comfort and inspiration in the Lord, journeying with him along the route.

“Any of the pains and sufferings you have, you can unite them directly with Christ who is literally walking with you, and you’re instantly reminded of the Cross that He carried. This pilgrimage is a very tangible experience of being able to unite yourself to Christ,” he said.

Fellow pilgrim Marina Frattaroli, of New York City, agreed.

“Having the Eucharist present with us throughout the day makes it hard to forget that if we’re suffering, it’s for a reason and we’re not alone in it,” she said.

And the challenges are many – walking 10-15 miles a day, facing rain, heat, blisters and exhaustion.

“The reality of the Eucharist is so transcendent that in order to communicate it, you have to transcend the norms of society in a way,” Frattaroli, 26, said of the radical nature of the pilgrimage. “We have a gift that is so lavish, we can’t help but want to share about it.”

“We want everyone who joined us in person or in spirit to share with at least one other person what their faith means to them and how much they love the Lord. If they do that, imagine how powerful the fruits of those seeds will be,” she said.

The national pilgrimage’s final stop in our Diocese was St. Joseph Parish in Hanover, where Bishop Timothy Senior presided over Evening Prayer. Welcoming the pilgrims, he said their presence was an inspiration and a grace, especially as the Diocese celebrates its 8 Days of Eucharistic Joy with additional Masses, prayer services, processions and celebrations this week.

Dozens of faithful lined the parking lot of St. Joseph Parish, welcoming the pilgrims and kneeling in adoration as the Blessed Sacrament was carried into the church.

Evening prayer was prayed in English and Spanish, and was followed by an outdoor festival of Hispanic food, prepared by members of the parish’s Hispanic community.

In his homily, Bishop Senior told the congregation that the Eucharistic Revival calls the faithful to share the reality of Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist.

“These days also provide us with an opportunity to reflect upon the powerful expression of God’s love in the Eucharist,” he said. “It has always impressed me that Jesus in the Eucharist is so vulnerable and so accessible. It’s an outpouring of love that risks rejection, and yet He still constantly offers Himself.”

“He makes Himself available and accessible to us, in what some might describe as a reckless or irrational way. It’s irrational desire, ultimately though, to be close to us and draw us close to Himself so we can find our way to Him forever,” he said.

The bishop said the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist provides a glimpse of our eternal life with Him.

“You are never closer to Jesus in this life than when you receive Him in the Eucharist,” he said. “The Mass, in this way, is a window into eternity, a vision of the kingdom of God come to fulfillment.”

“As we continue to adore Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, let us open our hearts again to contemplate the love that we receive from our God, who allows Himself to be so vulnerable, risking our rejection,” Bishop Senior said. “In the Eucharist, we do get a glimpse of the Kingdom, allowing the reality of His presence then to stir within our hearts the desire to become holy, to become like Jesus, so that the earth will have a foretaste of heaven through us.”

For more information about the Diocese’s 8 Days of Eucharistic Joy, which concludes with the celebration of Mass on the steps of the State Capitol on Saturday, June 8, visit www.hbgdiocese.org/event/8days. Follow the journey of the Seton Route pilgrims and learn more about them at this link.

(Photos by Chris Heisey and Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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