The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage Is Our ‘Emmaus Moment’

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: It’s important to remember that this isn’t just an ‘event.’ It’s a call to action.

Unlike the National Eucharistic Congress that will take place at its conclusion, the pilgrimage has never been done before.
Unlike the National Eucharistic Congress that will take place at its conclusion, the pilgrimage has never been done before. (photo: Rachel Moore / Unsplash)

The last time a National Eucharistic Congress was held in the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, Japan was still fine-tuning its secret plans for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and Joe DiMaggio was in the middle of his 56-game hitting streak.

So the fact that there is one happening this July 17-21 in Indianapolis is a very big deal.

It will be the 10th such event in our history. The ninth took place in Minneapolis-St. Paul, June 23-26, 1941 — six months before the U.S. entered World War II. The turnout was impressive. Seventy-five thousand well-dressed men carrying candles attended a midnight Mass. There were 13,000 voices in the youth choir for a special pontifical Mass for children. After the congress’ concluding Mass, an estimated 80,000 people processed out of the state fairgrounds with the Blessed Sacrament. Another 100,000 or more people lined the 2-mile route in reverent silence.

A lot has happened to reshape our society in the nearly 83 years since the last national Eucharistic congress, including multiple wars, the election and assassination of the country’s first Catholic president, the civil-rights movement, landing a man on the moon, and the sexual revolution, as well as Roe v. Wade, the clergy-abuse crisis, the creation of the internet, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the Holy Eucharist. The Real Presence of Our Lord’s Body and Blood remains with us. Jesus Christ’s sublime gift to us, the Eucharist, remains the “source and summit” of the Christian life. And it still inspires us to do great and difficult things.

One of those great and difficult things begins May 17-19: a massive and momentous nationwide Eucharistic pilgrimage. Unlike the National Eucharistic Congress that will take place at its conclusion, the pilgrimage has never been done before. The scale and audacity of it — four separate routes, more than 6,500 miles in all, converging on Indianapolis from the east, west, north and south — would impress even our more rugged Catholic forebears.

Only a hardy handful of “perpetual pilgrims” have pledged to walk the entirety of their respective routes, but untold thousands will join in for at least a part of it. 

The scope of this undertaking will be breathtaking.

Pilgrims will march across the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges and boat across the Ohio and Sacramento rivers. They’ll gather for Mass in historic cathedrals in many of America’s greatest cities, as well as in humble parishes and farms and fields in America’s heartland.

They’ll roll up their sleeves and serve Christ in the poor in places like the Bronx, New York, and North Platte, Nebraska. They’ll process with Jesus by candlelight and keep watch with him during all-night adoration vigils in Iowa, Texas and Missouri.

You can be sure that Mother Angelica’s nuns in Hanceville, Alabama, are counting the hours until pilgrims on the southern “Juan Diego Route” arrive at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament on June 20.

For those who participate — and I urge you to do so — it promises to be an unforgettable experience. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t just an “event.” It’s a call to action.

The U.S. bishops understood the gravity of surveys and other indicators showing a profound lack of understanding and belief in the Eucharist among self-identified Catholics. They knew that a onetime event like a congress or even a two-month-long cross-country pilgrimage would bear limited fruit.

That’s why, in their wisdom, they agreed in 2021 to embark on an ambitious three-year Eucharistic Revival campaign. The first two years focused on promoting devotion to the Eucharist at the diocesan and parish levels. The third year, which encompasses the pilgrimage and this summer’s congress in Indianapolis, is “a year of going out on mission.” This is a reminder that it’s our duty as Catholics to spread the Gospel. Over the next two months, Our Eucharistic Lord will lead the way, traversing a troubled land desperately in need of healing and rekindled faith. In a sense, this extraordinary pilgrimage is less about the pilgrims than it is about those they’ll evangelize by their witness along the way.

It’s a curious thing that at a time when so many of our churches here in the United States and around the world are empty, the ancient pilgrimage routes to places like Chartres, Walsingham and Santiago de Compostela are jammed. Perhaps it’s because God has put a yearning in our distracted hearts for an encounter like the disciples had on the road to Emmaus. 

Like many of us today, they were disheartened and disillusioned, but after meeting Jesus, hidden in the guise of a traveler, their eyes were opened and their lives were never the same.

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, and the Eucharistic Congress that follows, is our “Emmaus moment.” The road to revival beckons. Let’s get moving.

May God bless you!