Eucharistic pilgrimage with 7,000 friends

Drizzling rain came down upon our heads, umbrellas and rain jackets, and Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was somewhere ahead of us amongst the several thousand pilgrims.

Jun 07, 2024

Rain did not deter prayerful souls. (NCRegisterPhoto/Dave Hrbacek/Catholic Spirit)

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us

sinners ... Hail Mary, full of grace ... now
and at the hour of our death. Amen.

I let the wave of the Hail Mary wash over me from behind, as another washed over me from in front. Between two groups praying Rosaries in the Eucharistic procession, I found I could not pray along with the words, so I just let the prayers flow over me and lift me up to the Blessed Mother. We were not yet a mile into the four-and-a-half-mile procession from the St Paul Seminary to the Cathedral of St Paul in St Paul, Minnesota. It was Memorial Day (May 27), and thousands of local families had come out to take part in that small stretch of the Marian Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which will end in Indianapolis at the National Eucharistic Congress.

Drizzling rain came down upon our heads, umbrellas and rain jackets, and Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was somewhere ahead of us amongst the several thousand pilgrims. He was being reverently carried by a bishop underneath the baldacchino canopy, flanked in front by seminarians in their cassocks and surplices with incense pouring continually from the thurifer, and ordained clergy leading the way behind.

We had been within visual range of our Blessed Lord for about 15 minutes at the beginning of the procession, gazing at Christ on the altar erected on the steps of the seminary chapel as we chanted midday prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours before the procession.

Then the crowds parted, and Jesus passed through the people, all on their knees in the wet grass, only feet from us. And we followed behind with the people, like in a Mass celebrated ad orientem, the clergy closest to the Blessed Sacrament, one with his hands in a humeral veil grasping the precious metal which encased Our Lord — who humbled Himself to be held in human hands, gazed on by human eyes, and received onto our human tongues — all to make us a part of His body, the Body of Christ.

Our family walked with another family — taking turns pushing their double stroller, keeping track of the children. At times, we prayed silently; and, often, we basked in the prayers of the Rosary around us. And from time to time as the road dipped in front of us, we caught a glimpse of the monstrance.

Like it did that day in Fatima, when the Blessed Mother appeared for the last time to the children, the sun broke through the clouds. And for half an hour or so, it shone brightly. The back end of the procession came up to the altar and prayer service on the steps of St Thomas More Church as it was concluding and all were kneeling, receiving the blessing of Benediction. We could not hear the words, but simply received the Real Presence from before us. And then we slowly all started up again, continuing on our pilgrimage.

This must have been what it was like to be among the crowds following Jesus — souls there because of our love for Him; there because we are hungry for something more than the world can give; there because we know, as St Peter knew, that there is nowhere else to go, having come to believe that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” (John 6:68). My husband and I had joked as we prepared to go to the procession that we were going to be there with 5,000 of our “best friends,” but honestly, it was not a joke. For when the count came in, there were about 7,000 Catholics who came out to that procession.

And as we processed, everywhere we turned was another familiar face: a close friend, an acquaintance from other years, friends from school and work, friends from church, friends from small groups. Our 13-year-old made us feel like Mary and Joseph on their way home from Jerusalem, running off with her friends, though we had her with us by the time we arrived at the cathedral. We said hello to some friends, waved to others; most we could only glimpse from afar — but for all, we were thankful to be united with and in the Body of Christ.

Thunder began to rumble threateningly from the south as we approached the final curve of Summit Avenue, following behind the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324). I pulled up the weather radar on my phone to see a line of thunderstorms bearing down on St Paul from the west. Yet, while the sky rumbled, the hard rain did not fall until all were safely within the doors of the cathedral.

And then Our Lord was carried solemnly down the aisle while faithful knelt in every single pew, as well as on the floor of every narthex and aisle. The people in the church were pressed together and overflowing — the love we gave to the Lord that afternoon, pouring back over us from the monstrance.
The afternoon concluded with a reading from the Gospel, a homily, adoration and Benediction. But, like must have happened for many women with children in Jesus’ time, some of us mothers missed the “better part” of sitting at the feet of Jesus in order to tend to the bodily needs of our children. But as it always does for families who bring children to Mass and prayer services, the blessing of Our Lord extended down the stairs to the hallway where we waited in line. It was good we were there, wherever we needed to be with the Body of Christ.

I returned to my crowded pew as the final remarks were being made. Perhaps, when the rector of the cathedral took in the 7,000 souls, he felt like Philip when Jesus questioned him as to where they were going to find enough food to feed all the 5,000 (and more) people in John 6. For the rector told us that he had not enough ice cream sandwiches for the larger-than-anticipated crowd, suggesting we feed the children first at the outdoor celebration to follow.

But he also knew that we were not there for the ice cream. We were there for “the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).

And while the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was beyond sight and reach for me most of the four hours that I was a part of the pilgrimage, I have been given the gift of His precious Body and Blood, to gaze upon in my local parishes, to receive daily if I take the time.

He was never far from me the whole day, for He was among the whole Body of Christ, as we came together to witness to our belief in His Real Presence, to join in the Eucharistic Revival as Our Lord’s path passed through our town.

May we all welcome Him more fully into our hearts and into our homes. May we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood with true devotion, so that we will abide in Him as He abides in us, so that we will truly live. — By Susanna Spencer, Register

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