Among a Cloud of Witnesses at the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage

Christ will bring others to love him in the Eucharist through the lives of those who already do.

Pilgrims kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament ahead of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage kick-off in Bemidji, Minn.
Pilgrims kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament ahead of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage kick-off in Bemidji, Minn. (photo: Gianna Bonello / EWTN News )

There is a lot of excitement about bringing Jesus out into the streets this summer. After all, that’s what the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will do, as the Blessed Sacrament travels along four routes through hundreds of cities and towns over the next two months on the way to Indianapolis.

Of course, Jesus in the Eucharist can have a profound, even miraculous, impact on the hearts of those who encounter him — even nonbelievers who don’t understand what they’re beholding. 

But sometimes, God draws souls to know and love him not through direct means, but through the witness of those who already do.

At least that was my experience at Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, where the pilgrimage’s Marian Route began this past Sunday.

Because while I was certainly moved by my own encounter with the Eucharistic Lord during Pentecost Mass, the mile-long Eucharistic procession, and Benediction at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, it was the witnesses to Eucharistic love all around me that did the most to stir my heart. 

And within a crowd of 2,000 souls, there were plenty of them: an elderly woman, probably in her 80s, who knelt down on the side of the highway as the Eucharistic Lord processed by; multitudes of young families, like the Carders from Iowa, who drove hours to give their kids a chance to participate in the historic celebration of the Eucharist;  the “Perpetual Pilgrims,” young adults who are sacrificing their summers (and the comfort of their feet!) in order to journey with Jesus and pray for the nation. 

I’d also highlight the authenticity with which Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, spoke about his love for the Eucharist, expressed his desire for revival, and cherished the Lord in his celebration of the Mass and the day’s devotionals. My EWTN News colleagues in Brownsville, Texas, for the start of the St. Juan Diego Route shared similar observations about the Eucharistic witness of Bishop Daniel Flores. (I imagine the other prelates and clerics on the Serra and Seton Routes made a similar impression.)

The witnesses I encountered at the start of the Marian Route enkindled a desire in me to renew my own Eucharistic devotion — not so I could be “part of the club” or keep up with the Catholic Joneses, but because the love others showed for Jesus in the Eucharist reminded me that that’s how I want to love and that I am most whole and happy when I’m prioritizing my relationship with the Lord.

The fact that the witness of others can call us on to holiness underscores that we are the Body of Christ and that our relationship with God is never something that’s purely individual, but is pursued communally, as the Jesuit Henri De Lubac illustrated in his great work, Catholicism. Or, as St. John Paul II taught in Fides et Ratio, belief is humanly richer than evidence because it requires believing the testimony of others, which involves entering into interpersonal relationship.

God often reaches us through mediation — most apparently in the sacraments, such as the Eucharist itself — but also through people within whom his love already reigns. As St. John Henry Newman once wrote, “Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us.” Or as Joseph Ratzinger once observed, in addition to the beauty generated by the Church, it is the lives of the saints that are the most convincing demonstration of the truth of Christian faith. 

In fact, at the “Star of the North” Eucharistic Congress that preceded the Marian Route’s start, Bishop Robert Barron shared that his own devotion to Eucharistic adoration grew out of the witness of others: the seminarians he once taught as a priest-professor at Mundelein Seminary, who had rediscovered adoration by watching EWTN reruns of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s talks.

This is the kind of witness that the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage can bring to a nation that seems to have forgotten about God’s loving presence among us — but only if we’re willing to give it.

Unfortunately, some American Catholics don’t seem keen to participate in the broader National Eucharistic Revival, with some criticizing its cost, the theological emphases behind it, or the speakers who will present at the National Eucharistic Congress.

These concerns shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. But it would be a shame if people let what they perceive as shortcomings prevent them from participating in such a joyful — and potentially impactful — moment in the life of the Church in the United States.

My hope is that more and more of my fellow Catholics will experience what I experienced at the headwaters of the Mississippi, by taking part in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage — not only because all of us can benefit from being surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses to Eucharistic love, but because the world can benefit from each of our witnesses, too.