On the Road With Jesus: A Pilgrim Travels Many Roads to Indianapolis

COMMENTARY: We pilgrims became witnesses to the way Jesus himself is being received, accompanied, loved and worshipped.

Upon arrival, Bishop Lohse hands Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament to Fr. Roger Landry aboard the vessel ‘Sewickley.’
Upon arrival, Bishop Lohse hands Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament to Fr. Roger Landry aboard the vessel ‘Sewickley.’ (photo: Jeffrey Bruno / National Catholic Register )

The Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage reached the midpoint of its 65-day trek exactly one month before the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. That was a fitting occasion to form some impressions of what it is like on the road, traveling with the Eucharistic Jesus from New Haven, Connecticut, to Indianapolis.

When my fellow pilgrims and I began on May 18, we knew our principal task for the next two months would be to give witness — in the processions, in adoration in churches, at Mass, even in our specially fit support van that permits adoration in a monstrance on occasions when we need to drive from one site to another — to the reality of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine.

What we didn’t grasp as much at the outset was how much we would become witnesses to the way Jesus himself is being received, accompanied, loved and worshipped along the way.

We have been eyewitnesses to huge crowds and enthusiasm for Jesus and gratitude for the way the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage has been shining a spotlight on the gift of Jesus’ abiding and sanctification presence in what the Church has called the “Sacrament of Love.”

We not only have had a chance to visit some of our country’s most extraordinary places built to celebrate the treasure of the Eucharist — basilicas, cathedrals, stunning parish churches — but also to see what can only be described as the best of the Church today, as the faithful fill churches big and small for Mass with the pilgrims, for Holy Hours and all-night adoration, as they sing with gusto, pray with reverence, and begin Eucharistic processions in which hundreds, and on a few occasions thousands, walk with Jesus through their cities, towns and villages.

We’ve benefitted from the preparation of so many, not only from the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage team, but from diocesan and parish pilgrimage coordinators. It’s inspiring to see how much talent and time have been given to giving the Lord our best. It has likewise been inspiring to experience the close, fatherly accompaniment of bishops in their dioceses.

We’ve brought Jesus to some of the poorest, crime- and drug-ridden places along the East Coast, as well as visited some of the most affluent, and found inspiring faith in both. We’ve rejoiced seeing the faith and love of schoolchildren for the Eucharist as well as seniors in nursing homes and hospice centers. We’ve seen the Eucharistic love and traditions of Irish, Italians, Latinos, Filipinos, Haitians, Vietnamese and other ethnic groups.

We’ve received really moving hospitality along the journey. It’s a challenge to stay in a different place every night, but so many have received us into their homes like Martha and Mary received Jesus and the apostles. We’re conscious, as Jesus taught, that in receiving us, they receive him and the Father who sent him (Matthew 10:40), and so we try to accept their generosity as humbly as we can.

Along our way — on foot, in the support van and on three boats — we experience with Jesus what he encountered when he traversed the ancient Holy Land: lots of faith and love, but also indifference and, on a few occasions, hostility, expletives and blasphemy.

What sticks with me most, however, are the expressions of reverence: Nonagenarians walking for miles in brutal heat, amputees getting down from their wheelchairs to the sidewalk as Jesus passes, Latinos singing boisterous hymns — with fireworks! — for Jesus upon his arrival, the tears of pastors for having the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage come to their parish, and of faithful to have Jesus pass by their neighborhoods, not to mention people driving alongside us in the highway blessing themselves as they pass our van with Jesus exposed.

We recognize that relatively few people are able to participate in the pilgrimage on foot, even for a day, and so we have tried to facilitate as many faithful as possible participating by prayer through the SetonPilgrimage.org daily blog, which documents our experiences with photos, videos and text, produced by us and by the many journalists who meet us along the way. We hope that, through it, you will walk with us spiritually.

For the priests who carry the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated Host in the monstrance is never quite a perfect fit, and so there’s a sliver of glass through which priests can look with a Eucharistic lens at who and what’s in front of them.

It’s a good metaphor for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage as a whole, as the pilgrim Church on earth in the United States makes its journey to Indianapolis for the 10th National Eucharistic Congress and through Indianapolis to the eternal Jerusalem.