Pilgrim says the Church is alive and hungry as national pilgrimage passes through the Archdiocese of Louisville


Singing hymns and praying the rosary, hundreds of Catholics from the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis processed with the Blessed Sacrament from Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville across the Ohio River via the Big Four Bridge July 9. 

Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre held the monstrance aloft as he crossed the pedestrian bridge, ceremoniously transferring it to Archbishop of Indianapolis Charles Thompson where the bridge begins its descent into Jeffersonville.

Threats of severe weather produced by Hurricane Beryl lay in the distance, while high humidity cloaked the bridge. But the skies were clear for the procession and prayer service that followed at the base of the bridge in Jeffersonville. As the service neared its end, a rainbow arced across the sky over Louisville.

The evening gathering marked the end of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s route through the Archdiocese of Louisville. Eight pilgrims traveling the Juan Diego Route of the nationwide pilgrimage entered the archdiocese on July 4. Processing with the Blessed Sacrament at various points, they covered about 100 miles of the archdiocese, visiting parishes, religious communities and other sites.

Now the pilgrims are heading to Indianapolis for their final destination, the July 17-21 National Eucharistic Congress. 

Shayla Elm, one of eight pilgrims on the pilgrimage’s southern route traveling from Texas to Indiana, said their experiences in Kentucky and along the route have convinced her that “the Church is alive and hungry.” 

Many Catholics desire to live lives that are “on fire” rather than “lukewarm,” and they love the opportunity to publicly declare their faith by walking behind Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, she said.

“A Eucharistic procession makes you make an act of faith that is public,” she noted, adding that people are stepping into the opportunity and, “They love it!”

During the pilgrimage, Elm was seeing Kentucky for the first time. A native of North Dakota, Elm said in a recent interview that she was struck by the Catholic roots she found in her few days in the state. 

“The tradition and Catholic ownership runs deep,” she noted. The Archdiocese of Louisville was established in 1808, one of four dioceses carved from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the original see in the United States.

Although the eight pilgrims were only in the Archdiocese of Louisville for six days, they experienced centuries of history in the “Kentucky Holy Land,” where the Catholic faith first took root in the late 1700s.

To begin their route through the Archdiocese of Louisville, the pilgrims celebrated Mass at St. Catherine Church in New Haven, and spent the night at the nearby Abbey of Gethsemani, where they joined the monks for midday prayer and a private tour of the Abbey, celebrated Mass and had a Eucharistic procession. 

The pilgrims spent the following days with the Dominican Sisters of Peace and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, as well as several parishes in the area, including Holy Cross in Loretto, and St. Rose Priory in Springfield.

On July 7, the pilgrims were among a large crowd attending Mass for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time at the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, then spent time at the nearby St. Monica Church and then headed to St. Gregory Church in Cox’s Creek. 

The next day, they celebrated Mass at St. Gabriel Church, then processed with the Blessed Sacrament along a stretch of Bardstown Road, making stops at St. Raphael, St. Francis of Assisi and St. James churches before ending the evening with sacred music and adoration at the Shrine of St. Martin of Tours. 

On July 9th, the pilgrims toured Catholic Charities of Louisville and joined Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre for Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville. Afterward, hundreds processed with the Blessed Sacrament from the Cathedral to St. Augustine Church, a traditionally African American church established at the end of the Civil War.

In all, the pilgrims saw 17 sites in the archdiocese. Throughout their route, hundreds of Catholics from around the area joined them for adoration, potluck dinners, music and Eucharistic processions. They were not deterred by high heat and humidity that spiked each day.

At the time of her interview on July 8, Elm still had plenty of Catholic churches to see, but said that her favorite stop within the archdiocese thus far was Holy Cross Church in Loretto, which she visited on July 5. At Holy Cross, she was struck by the story of Father Stephen Badin, the first priest in the United States who served the region from that parish.

Elm and the seven other perpetual pilgrims on the southern route began Pentecost Sunday, May 19, in Texas. Elm explained that the team has become like family as they have encountered the joys and challenges of the road together. 

“I’ve been moved by all my teammates’ faith,” she said. 

The pilgrims have been accompanied by priests from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who have served as their chaplains on the road. Among them is Franciscan Father Dismas Marie Kline, a native of Louisville.

“They are a delight,” Elm said. She explained that the pilgrims on her route have grown a closeness with the religious order. “They have been such good brothers and fathers.”

Elm said she is looking forward to the National Eucharistic Congress, July 17-21 in Indianapolis, where she will get to meet up with the pilgrims from the three other routes — which began in the west, east and north — and share stories about their time on the road.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Robert Leo Schmidt

    The service St Francis of Assisi church was really special. The march from St Francis to St James down Bardstown Rd was one of the most Catholic things I have ever done. The walk across the Big Four Bridge with Archbishop Thompson ( a native of Louisville ) and Archbishop Shelton was attended by a large following of devoted Faithful which was very encouraging.

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