July 9, 2024 // Bishop

National Eucharistic Pilgrimage Draws Standing Room Only Crowds in Diocese

When welcoming the crowd of more than 1,000 people who had gathered at St. Therese, Little Flower, Catholic Church in South Bend on Friday, July 5, in order to spend time with our Eucharistic Lord and follow Him through the streets as He entered the diocese, St. Therese’s Director of Evangelization, Abby Kyle said, “This city, this country, every heart, and every inch, belongs to Jesus and what a gift it is to witness Him reclaim it step by step.”

Photos from Paula Lent.

The entrance of the Marian route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage into our diocese as it travels to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis brought out Catholics from near and far, making what are often invisible truths of the Church visible, and offering the hope of further healing and unity in the Lord.

Paula Lent
Adoration takes place at St. Therese, Little Flower Church on Friday, July 5, as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage on the first day in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The communion of the Church was first made visible at the kickoff event at St. Therese. Priests, seminarians, and deacons from out-of-state dioceses, including Kalamazoo, Detroit, Joliet, Toledo, St. Paul, and Minneapolis, joined St. Therese’s pastor, Father Julius Okojie, at the front of the parish, looking out at the sea of people who made use of every pew and floor space available to sit or stand in order to take part.

Photos from David Shaw.

“To be in a crowd that large, all there to worship Jesus, was extremely moving,” said Notre Dame retiree, Jim Kaiser. “The church was packed to overflowing. The people to my left said they were from Michigan, about a two-hour drive away, while those to my right were from a city west of Chicago.”

The atmosphere was gentle and reverent – a stark contrast to the near-deafening din that often accompanies large crowds. As Andrew Goldstein, of The Vigil Project, and Tierney Vrdolyak sang, there was a palpable peace, as the massive crowd prepared their hearts to encounter Christ in the Eucharist.

Before the pilgrims arrived inside the church, local young adult, Mia Tiwana, shared her stirring witness talk about risking her life to convert from Islam to Catholicism. Tiwana concluded by encouraging the crowd, saying, “Soon our Lord, love Himself, will process in. Ask Him for hope, fearlessness, and perseverance. Ask Him for the grace to live well for Him. And ask Him for the understanding that you were created to be loved, and created to be little.”

Then it was time. As bells rang, Jesus, present in the Eucharist, entered the church. As He made His way down the main aisle, flanked by the color guard of the Knights of Columbus, the room gathered to its feet to see Him, then fell to their knees to pay Him homage.

For the next 15 minutes, a beautiful sense of solemness filled the space, as all eyes beheld their Lord. As worship music played, many voices throughout the sanctuary joined in song, while others remained silent. Even in the midst of such a large crowd, there was a palpable sense of intimacy throughout the space, as each person communed with Jesus.

Observing the room as he entered in the procession, Perpetual Pilgrim Matthew Heidenreich said, “I was amazed. It feels like people in South Bend are just so excited, they’re so hungry to experience the Lord. It was beautiful, not knowing a ton about Little Flower or about South Bend, to walk in and to see people who were ready to worship, who were ready to welcome Jesus. It was such a gift.”

Following Adoration, Father Okojie held the monstrance for all to see, and then the procession began out of the church, down the busy street in front of it, and onto Bulla Road, as the pilgrims made their way to the University of Notre Dame.

Paula Lent
Following adoration at St. Therese, Little Flower Church in South Bend, participants in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage process to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, July 5.

The front of the procession was led by altar servers, the Knights of Columbus color guard, clergy, and four children who had recently received their First Holy Communion: Lily Markovich, Anna Engelsen, Jonah Smith, and Stella Freddoso, each wearing their First Communion attire. The priests took turns holding the monstrance as they journeyed, and the crowd was led in the recitation of prayers together.

David Shaw
A group of young people kneel and pray as the Eucharistic Lord passes them by as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage procession from St. Therese, Little Flower Church in South Bend to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame.

“As we walked down Bulla Road towards Notre Dame, there were hundreds of people ahead of me and hundreds behind. I felt swept up in a very joyful but still solemn procession,” said Kaiser. “The people prayed the whole way, led by someone up front. Everyone seemed happy to be there, and the peace and joy were palpable.”

The pilgrimage made several truths of the Church visible: our unity as the body of Christ, our call to live our faith in visible ways in everyday circumstances, and the fact that we are a pilgrim people, followers of Jesus on our journey to our heavenly home.

“The most moving part for me was just being a part of the Pilgrim People,” Josh Noem with Ave Maria Press told Today’s Catholic. “You’re a part of this great movement. I just kept turning around to look to see if I could see the end of the procession. It made visible what is invisible for us when we go to Mass and are part of the Eucharist. That communion, that gathering, is invisible and it’s really nice to be Eucharistic.”

Being able to witness and help facilitate the unity of the Church was one of the reasons Kai Weiss chose to be a Perpetual Pilgrim. “I love this country,” Weiss said, who originally hails from Germany, and is a graduate of Michigan’s Hillsdale College. “I’m so grateful to be here, but it’s obviously a very polarized and divided country at this time, and I think this pilgrimage is just a wonderful way of bringing people together, sanctifying this country, Jesus sanctifying this country, and yes, to bring some healing. Jesus meets all of us in the Eucharist regardless of which corner of the country we come from, or where we grow up, in what way we grow up, what political party we vote for. He desires all of us to be with Him. And so, just finding that healing for this country has been one key aspect as well of me doing this.”

David Shaw
Priests and pilgrims prepare to process with our Eucharistic Lord from St. Therese, Little Flower Church in South Bend to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend on Friday, July 5.

Brian Peterson was among the Knights of Columbus at the front of the procession. He told Today’s Catholic that it was inspiring to glance back a couple of times and see all of Bulla Road covered with pilgrims. “But the most inspiring thing,” he said, “was that every time we came upon a group of people outside the procession, they knelt in silence. That was just beautiful and breathtaking to be able to see that everywhere! One lady came out of her house, she had a cross, and she was holding it and as we went by, she was kneeling. Just beautiful. That’s what it’s all about.”

Paula Lent

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart quickly filled up as the procession arrived. “There were so many people in the Basilica that not only were all the seats taken, but almost any room to stand or even sit on the floor was also occupied,” said Kaiser.

There was extended time for quiet adoration before Mass began. “The time spent in adoration before Mass was special,” said Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate, Laurel Lown.

The Mass readings included Matthew 9:9-13, in which Jesus calls Matthew, the tax collector, to be his disciple and then dines at his house with other sinners. To the Pharisees who questioned the scene, Jesus responded: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

In his homily, Father Gregory Haake, CSC, highlighted the reason so many were gathered that day. “We, like Matthew, are sinners who are unfailingly offered God’s grace and mercy.”

He invited the crowd to reflect on the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, asking them what comes to mind when they think of it, “The flame? The thorns? The wound? The cross?”

As if speaking for them, he said, “We are grateful for this abundance of grace and mercy poured out for us, the blood and the water. The water is to symbolize our baptism, and the blood to symbolize His flesh, offered for us on that cross, and offered for us again and again in the Eucharist. We’re grateful for that abundance. We’re grateful for the ways in which His heart speaks to ours, calling us forth to offer mercy in imitation of Him, and to make of our lives a sacrifice. This is at the heart of our scriptures today, at least indirectly.”

Returning to the call of Matthew, Father Haake said, “he’s been exploiting the poor by all of the many blessings that he’s received. And so, he’s called to conversion by our Lord. He’s called to be among the merciful ones, and to give His life, eventually, in imitation of the cross. And so, we have that transformation.”

“Our Lord offers us His abundance, and in response we experience a conversion,” he continued. “We can’t help but get up and leave our sins behind and welcome that abundance into our hearts. There will be no famine for us. That is the promise of the Eucharist. We will be fed. Our hearts will be nourished. As sure as that blood and water poured from His side, we will get what we need to fortify our hearts, to experience that grace and mercy to transform us, and to make of our lives an offering to Him.”

He concluded with a call to boldly bear witness to this truth, saying, “My brothers and sisters, as you receive this Eucharist today, and as you unite your hearts to His, become what you receive and offer your lives as a sacrifice to Him, and go out and proclaim, by the language of love and mercy, that He is our Savior. Proclaim by word and deed that you believe that He is the one who has come to save us and to bring salvation to the world.”

Following Mass, the Perpetual Pilgrims had opportunities for both rest and community, while lodging at the presbytery on Notre Dame’s campus. During this time, they enjoyed attending Carolyn Pirtle’s Eucharistic musical, Behold God’s Love, and also the beauty of the campus grounds. They also participated in service work with Catholic Charities, helping to plant a unity garden.

“I think it’s just beautiful to spend time on this campus,” Weiss said. “It’s been nice to walk around the lake and to really spend time in the basilica. It’s just been kind of almost like a retreat feeling, just being in this very peaceful environment.”

Heidenreich was also struck by his experience on campus. He said, “It’s been a blessing to encounter certain spaces that just feel very holy: like you know there have been hundreds of people here – thousands of people – who have come before you and who have prayed in this spot, who have offered themselves in this spot, like the grotto especially. There’s just such a feeling of like you’re walking into a pocket of holiness and a pocket of heaven. And those are very unique spaces to encounter, but whenever we can it’s a very great blessing for our team.”

He also enjoyed the musical, “Behold God’s Love: A Eucharistic Musical” that was held at Saint Mary’s College on Saturday, July 6, and was inspired by it. “I think it’s so beautiful to see how people can bring their own talents to our faith, and how every gift can be used. Every gift is welcome. To see how this community has used the gifts that they have of singing, of songwriting, of theater, it was beautiful. It was so encouraging for me to think, ‘What gifts do I have that maybe I haven’t used for this revival or for the Lord yet?’ It was very uplifting.”

Sunday, July 7, was the last day for the Perpetual Pilgrims in South Bend. As they prepared to leave, the realization that their Pilgrimage was coming to an end, with their arrival in Indianapolis less than two weeks away, caused them to consider how to live in their next phase of life.

“I think for some of us, Fort-Wayne-South Bend is like a homecoming in some ways,” Heidenreich shared. “Day by day, we’re getting closer to where we’re from. I’m from Columbus, Ohio. And so, it’s just bringing to mind that reality that soon we will be going home from this experience. And so, it is kind of like this beautiful way to remember that even as we’re going forward to the communities that we have originated from or started at, we’re still going to be pilgrims there, and we’re going to be missionaries there especially. We’re pilgrims forever on our journey to heaven, and we’re missionaries now of the Eucharist, to go and share this experience that we’ve had with the places that we came from. So, it’s a good reminder that there’s a lot more to come.”

The end of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s time in South Bend also presented an opportunity for everyone who had participated in it to consider for themselves how they might live moving forward. How might we live our lives of faith more visibly? How might we continue to foster the sense of our Eucharistic unity? How can we each follow after Jesus more closely? And how might we work to retain our reverence, gratitude, and awe for Christ?

Photos by Derby Photography.

At the closing Mass on Sunday, following an anecdote about a professional hockey player whose grandchildren had lost sight of how accomplished he is, Father Brian Ching, Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame, reflected during his homily, “When you have that sort of familial relationship with someone, when you spend that much time with them, and love them so much, it’s very easy to forget about their, quote, unquote, professional accomplishments”

Derby Photography
Adoration at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Sunday, July 7.

“My friends, let me say that today’s Gospels suggest to us that this sort of intimacy and relationship, and this sort of forgetfulness that it causes, might be part of the struggle of living the Christian life,” Father Ching said. “Because this sort of intimacy, intimacy between a grandfather and his grandchildren, intimacy between siblings, intimacy in family, that’s the sort of relationship and intimacy that Jesus calls us to and that Jesus gives to us.”

“Jesus doesn’t seek to be some sort of God, seated on a lofty throne, distant from His people,” Father Ching continued. “He seeks to be an intimate part of our human heart. He seeks to be a day-to-day, constitutive part of our life, someone who is present to us at all times, someone we can access, someone we can call upon, someone we can speak to anytime we desire. He seeks to be someone who loves us so much that He willingly enters our lives by allowing us to consume Him, body and blood, soul and divinity, and the Holy Eucharist. To access Him in prayer, anytime you open the Scriptures, anytime you sit in silent meditation and contemplation, anytime you gaze upon the beauty of His creation, God wants to be there with us and for us. And that level of familiarity, and that level of relationship, is good, and it’s beautiful, and it is a great gift to give to us. But the challenge is that when we’re that close with someone, when we’re that intimate with someone, it is very easy for us to take them for granted.”

Derby Photography
Perpetual Pilgrims, priests, deacons, and laypeople process around the University of Notre Dame campus as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend on Sunday, July 7.

Father Ching noted that our tendency to forget who Jesus is often comes not from a stubbornness of heart, but rather a gradual complacency. He noted that the goal of the Eucharistic Revival “is to remind us of just who it is we believe God to be and just what it is we believe God to be capable of. to remind ourselves that God is indeed that good, that loving, that compassionate, that merciful, that He is willing to enter our life at any moment, to be present to us, and journey with us, and show us the way forward.”

St. Therese parishioner, Austin Stonewall, found the pilgrimage very impactful. “I’m still reflecting on the parallels and the nuances that made the pilgrimage seem like a profound representation of Palm Sunday, in a certain sense,” he said. “It renewed my sense of the need for grace in all things: To be able to see Him for who he is, especially in the Eucharist, and to faithfully follow Him as a response. I’m grateful for the encouragement that these events are providing and for the gift of a reasonable hope in great things that will follow from all of this.”

Fellow parishioner Elyse Paul was also influenced by the pilgrimage, and Tiwana’s talk. She shared, “Listening to the talk helped me think about what my next steps are.”

“It was such a gift to be part of this Eucharistic procession which I found to be both communal and deeply personal,” said Maddie Garcia, of St. Monica Parish in Mishawaka. “Being able to step out alongside others, including my own family, in faith to honor our Lord, was a very moving experience, as was comprehending His individual love and attention to every person.  While praying beforehand, I was struck by the realization that we were all there to lift up and adore Jesus, but at the same time, He’s the one holding and sustaining us. There was such joy and love for the Lord all around, a testimony of the daily witness we are called to give as Christians. I hope the treasure of those moments stays with all present as a constant reminder of the witness we are called to give to Jesus each day.”

Paula Lent
Pilgrims gather at the University of Notre Dame Administration Building prior to departure for St. Mary of the Assumption, Bristol.

As the final procession made its way around the University of Notre Dame’s campus, ending with adoration as the Eucharist was exposed at the top of the steps on the main building, Tiwana’s encouragement to the crowd and Kyle’s opening remarks came back to mind: “You were created to be loved, and created to be little,” Tiwana had said.

“This city, this country, every heart, and every inch, belongs to Jesus and what a gift it is to witness Him reclaim it step by step,” Kyle had reminded those in attendance.

Looking at the crowd, down on their knees outside, adoring Jesus, one was reminded just how small we are, how overwhelming Christ’s love is, and that everything belongs to Him.

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