Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
The annual walking pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., where Sts. Isaac Jogues, René Goupil and John Lalande became the first North American martyrs 370 years ago, has an added saint this year.
Scheduled Sept. 28-30, it comes shortly before the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Lily of the Mohawks,” who was born on those very grounds. Kateri will be canonized Oct. 21.
Fittingly, this first Native American saint is part of the pilgrimage theme: “Restoring True Devotion to Mary, in the Footsteps of St. Kateri.”
“Kateri is a perfect disciple of Jesus Christ and a perfect imitator of the Blessed Virgin, Christ’s mother and first disciple,” explained Gregory Lloyd, who founded the pilgrimage 17 years ago and organizes it as part of the National Coalition of Clergy and Laity.
“We joined our prayers for the last 17 years with millions of other Christians who prayed for centuries for the honor of Kateri, to raise her to the altar of a saint. In gratitude to the answer to all those prayers, we wish to remember her in this special way.”
Pilgrims will carry these thanksgivings in their hearts along the 63-mile route, which starts in Lake George, N.Y., to the shrine in the Mohawk River Valley. The three-day walk takes pilgrims through the breathtakingly beautiful Adirondacks. They can imagine Kateri enjoying these views, too.
The Friday start begins at Isaac Jogues’ monument by Lake George with Mass. Lake George was originally named the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament by Father Jogues.
After camping out for the night, pilgrims will begin Saturday with Mass.
This year, nearly 300 walkers signed up for the prayerful journey.
Those who can’t traverse the entire 63 miles can join the main group along the way or walk just the final leg of the journey on Sunday. (Anyone can register here for Sunday). By then, 300-500 people will enter the shrine.
“A lot of parents pushing strollers and seniors pushing 80 make it the last day,” Lloyd said.
Once walkers reach the shrine on Sunday afternoon, at 3:15pm they will attend Mass in the church to crown the pilgrimage. All Masses are in the Extraordinary Form.
Throughout the pilgrimage, the faithful focus on their cause: “to pray, to do penance, to restore the pre-eminence of grace to souls and to restore souls to grace," as well as "a restoration of true devotion to Mary,” Lloyd said.
The Rosary is part of the weekend as well.
Lloyd described how “the Rosary is prayed every day in all of its mysteries by the walkers, and they sing hymns to the Blessed Virgin. Acts of reparation are done to her for sins committed against her Immaculate Heart.” That’s another important purpose of each pilgrimage.
Pilgrims sing a wide selection of specially chosen hymns, too.
Plus, there’s a lot of good-natured fun. “There is no lack of laughter and mirth among the pilgrims,” Lloyd said.
Priests serve as spiritual guides.
“It leads in some cases to tremendous conversion, the kind that even bears fruit in religious and marital vocations,” he emphasized. “There are quite a few that come to fruition.”
He shared many examples, like the young man who returned two years ago as a young priest to offer the pilgrimage’s closing Mass and the four young ladies who joined contemplative religious orders.
“Many marriages are born between pilgrims,” Lloyd added. “A couple of children of dear friends of ours found their spouses on the pilgrimages. There are already nine children from both those marriages.” And a nurse, who discerned her vocation on pilgrimage, is now a mother. She and her husband have four youngsters.
“It’s a lovely thing,” Lloyd shared. “There’s no credit here except (to) Our Lord. These people have discerned their vocations while on pilgrimage.”
Youth also find the ancient beauty and richness of the Church along the way. As they search for roots in this fast-paced, ever-changing world, they come here and find Christ.
“The thing that doesn’t change is Jesus Christ,” emphasized Lloyd. “He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. They fall in love with him, and the rest is history.
“St. Kateri knows. That’s what happened to her. Because she loved him, she did everything for him.”