Between Amens — Pilgrimage is about transformation

Dr. Karen Shadle

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is underway. On Pentecost weekend, four groups of young adults – laity, priests and religious – set off on a trek from the northern, southern, eastern and western extremes of the continental United States. Traveling mostly on foot, these four paths will converge in Indianapolis on July 17 to kick off the National Eucharistic Congress.

What is a pilgrimage? There is a starting place and a destination, but a pilgrimage is more than merely the route taken from point A to point B. Pilgrims intentionally leave the familiar behind and plunge into foreign surroundings. 

They plan for the journey but must also trust in the providence of strangers along the way for food, shelter, guidance and companionship. A pilgrimage builds both physical and spiritual endurance. It is intended to be transformative. One finishes differently than one began.

In the Eucharistic Pilgrimage taking place right now and over the next few weeks, that transformative journey happens with Jesus walking right alongside the pilgrims. The Blessed Sacrament consecrated at Pentecost will be kept safely on the road and transported in ciboria and monstrances all the way to Indianapolis. 

The scorching heat of mid-summer will be intensified by the fire of the Holy Spirit burning through the fruited plains, from sea to shining sea.

This is something new. It is a bold and monumental undertaking and in that sense a very American one. The Eucharist will travel many miles over diverse terrains, and the pilgrims will encounter the varied cultures, ecclesiologies and traditions that together form the Catholic Church in the United States. 

In this grand undertaking, we are reminded that Jesus is the one who unifies us all. Jesus in the Eucharist defines our Catholicism. After that, every other difference is a small matter.

The pilgrims of the southern “Juan Diego” route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will pass through the Archdiocese of Louisville July 4 through July 9. They will make several stops along the way. They will visit our parishes, stay in our homes and eat the food we provide. 

The journey has been planned, but the nature of a pilgrimage requires us to be patient and flexible. We have never done this before, so we are not really sure how it will go! Thank you to the many volunteers who have already responded to requests for housing and food and to the parishes who are planning host visits. 

The Record and other communications will keep you posted on opportunities to pray and engage with the pilgrims and walk portions of the journey with them. And at www.eucharisticpilgrimage.org, you can track the movements of each route, and view an interactive map of their stops. 

I encourage you to engage with the pilgrimage if you can. For lifelong Catholics, it may be an opportunity for renewal of zeal. For curious observers, it could spark a new relationship with the Church. For all of us, it will be a striking example of the beauty of our Catholic faith and the power of the Eucharist to transform the world.

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