The second weekend in August marked the 25th Walking Pilgrimage from Great Meadows, N.J., to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa. (see story in Daily News).
The pilgrimage emulates traditional ones in Poland to the original shrine and always occurs the weekend before the feast of the Assumption.
This year, on Thursday, Aug. 9, people of all ages met up once again at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Great Meadows, the starting point of this annual four-day walking pilgrimage to the major shrine popularly known as the "American Czestochowa."
The cross led the way as everyone set out on the 57.5-mile route. Marian emblems were next in line; then the pilgrims fell into step. Their eyes were on banners of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
The event is a retreat on the move — and a joyful one at that.
Father Jeremiah Shryock of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal said the same routine happens every year. "Basically," he explained, "every day we walk between 10 and 20 miles. That whole time we pray the Liturgy of the Hours together, we say the Rosary together, and there is praise and worship music. There are talks every morning, afternoon and evening on all different topics, from the Eucharist to Mary to who Jesus is to morality and faith in general."
There’s a lot of singing and dancing of old Polish songs, too.
"There’s Mass every night and an hour of adoration as well," he said. Sacraments are dispensed in abundance.
"During the day, the priests walk in the front and literally hear confessions all day, from morning till night," Father Shryock said. "We walk in the front of the group, and people come up for confession. That literally happens all day, which is beautiful."
Between 10 and 25 friars lead the English group each year. Pauline and Salvatorian priests lead the Polish groups, plus diocesan priests who join in along the way.
This year, two Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal also joined the pilgrimage. Our Lady is present the entire way.
"Our Lady of Czestochowa is very prominent in the pilgrimage," Father Shryock emphasized. "She’s the one who leads us closer to Jesus and leads us deeper into the heart of the Church."
Brother Simon Dankoski of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal said that this pilgrimage "is a replica of the big one happening in Poland" at the same time. People from all over the country head toward the original shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
The group’s Franciscan Friars of the Renewal leader, Father Mariusz Koch, talked about many grace-filled moments from year to year. On the first day, he came across a fellow he met on last year’s pilgrimage. This year the young man is a seminarian.
A few years ago, Father Koch introduced a young man and young woman. A couple of years later, they became engaged during the pilgrimage; now they have five children. They always stop and pray at the proposal spot.
"A lot of different kinds of vocations are discovered here," says the priest. "It’s a retreat, but it’s moving — that’s what’s so beautiful."
At the end of the first day, having walked a shade over 17 miles, all were ready for Mass and a campout. After Friday’s 19.5-mile walk — during which the route crossed into Pennsylvania — the pilgrims rested at another park for the night.
Justin Sofio, 24, made his sixth pilgrimage this year. Along the miles, he said, "you make strong friendships in a small amount of quality time together."
"The important aspect is the joy," he always finds. "There’s so much grace available to you in the pilgrimage, so you’re open to grace, and so there’s lots of joy."
His sister, Katie Sofio, celebrated her 28th birthday on the first day of her first pilgrimage. "I decided to go on the pilgrimage because I wanted an experience of the larger Church community," she said. "This is a great way to disconnect from the busyness of the world and spend time with God and grow in the faith and be with other people who are like-minded. I want to really experience that word ‘pilgrimage’ used in our faith and what it means."
By the third day, there are always upwards of 3,000 people joining in the walk. Saturday’s 12-mile walk saw the pilgrims on the outskirts of Doylestown. From there, on Sunday morning, Aug. 12, it was a 8.5-mile walk to the American Czestochowa.
Once the walkers arrived at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, they concluded their pilgrimage with Mass at 2pm. It was a most-fitting finish — to praise, honor and thank Jesus and Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.