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A 'deeper walk with Jesus' - Eucharistic revival plans walking US pilgrimages

Ahead of the 2024 Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, teams of Catholics will walk with the Eucharist across the U.S. Bishop Andrew Cozzens explains why.

A June 19 Eucharistic procession in the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota. Courtesy photo.

During the U.S. bishops' conference fall meeting this month, Bishop Andrew Cozzens talked with U.S. bishops about newly announced Eucharistic pilgrimages – four walking pilgrimages which will precede a July 2024 Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Cozzens, who is bishop of Crookston, Minnesota, and chair of both the Eucharistic Congress and the USCCB's Eucharistic Revival, talked with The Pillar last week about those pilgrimages.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens. Credit: JD Flynn/The Pillar.

Bishop, what are these planned Eucharistic pilgrimages that will take place in summer 2024?

The idea is simple.

We're going to invite young people to pilgrimage with Jesus.

Really - we’re going to invite everyone; young people and whoever wants to pilgrimage with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament across the country from four sides of the country, praying and seeking their own deeper walk with Jesus, as we process the Blessed Sacrament towards Indianapolis.

We're going to begin in four places: in San Francisco; at the tomb of Blessed Michael McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut; at the U.S.-Mexico border near Brownsville, Texas; and in the Diocese of Crookston at the headwaters of the Mississippi. And each route will end in Indianapolis

We'll proceed as much as possible on foot. We haven't... Certain places in the desert where we might not always go on foot. But as much as possible at a walking pace, for almost every mile, every mile that we can logistically along those routes.

The pilgrimages will involve what we call major processions and minor processions.

The major processions would be the kind of Eucharistic procession that you'd expect for a Corpus Christi Eucharistic procession, with the canopy and cross and servers and people singing hymns and praying and things like that.

We'll do those when we're around the cities, especially as the local ordinaries and pastors desire.

And then for the miles on miles [outside of such cities], we'll be doing minor processions. What we mean by that is, basically, one of three options:

One is a simple walking procession, a priest or a deacon carrying the Blessed Sacrament and a simple monstrance, but without a canopy and people walking prayerfully.

The second is using a vehicle which we're going to pilot this summer, it's an electric vehicle that looks like a really fancy golf cart, almost like a Popemobile.

An electric vehicle likely to be used during the 2024 Eucharistic pilgrimages. Courtesy photo.

It's a six-passenger vehicle. The front would be the driver,  and then in the middle we'd set up an altar with the Blessed Sacrament and candles. And then in the back, two people sitting in adoration. That vehicle can proceed down the highway, at a walking pace, and pilgrims can walk behind it, while the focused adoration is going on with the two people in the vehicle.

The third option would be for those places where there’s hundreds of miles with no people - when we’re going across the desert of Nevada, for example - where we might repose the Blessed Sacrament or at least prayerfully carry it in a van while we're going across the larger miles.

But the goal is to vary between the first two for as much as possible across the entire country.

This sounds like a completely unique initiative, at least in this country - but drawing from some nearly perennial traditions in Catholic culture and devotional life.

At the same time, it sounds like the plans also draw from some contemporary apostolic projects, like NET, with a traveling core team, and Crossroads, the pro-life walks across America.

Are you drawing from some of those initiatives?

Well, if we want to say where we’re drawing from in the tradition of the Church, it’s that at different times, bishops have processed the Blessed Sacrament across their entire dioceses. Like St. Charles Borromeo — during a time of plague, he processed the Blessed Sacrament around as a form of intercessory prayer, and that’s certainly a part of what we’re doing.

And in that sense, it does connect with Crossroads — and we’ve been using a lot of their intel for how to organize walking pilgrimages like that.

And then we’re also connected with the longstanding practice of Eucharistic processions — so it’s kind of a hybrid, in that sense.

I think it’s both intercessory and - in a certain way - prophetic. We’re going to take a prophetic stance about what we believe. And do so in a way that’s intriguing for young people and seekers, who might see this and be surprised.

In fact, some of the bishops had given examples from their own life where processions have really drawn attention to the faith. Bishop [James] Conley was recently talking with me about how they process the Blessed Sacrament across the campus at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, every year. The procession goes right down ‘Frat Row,’ and amazingly, the radios turn down and people get actually quite reverent.

I think there’s both intercessory and spiritual power to this.

As to the question of where this came from, well, we did some listening sessions in the spring of 2021, as were putting the Revival together, and this idea came forward. It was suggested by some priests, and then some lay people who work in ministry with youth.

I thought it was too much at first. I thought: ‘Logistically, this is not going to be possible, and it’s probably just too much to do.’

[I thought] maybe we could do a bunch of processions around the country, because to do this just seemed too much.

So I let the idea go.

But we held earlier this year in Chicago the National Eucharistic Preachers’ Retreat, and some of the priests who were on that retreat told me they really wanted to pursue this idea. And then the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal told me they’d supply priests to make this happen — ‘We’ll give you the priestly presence,’ they told me.

A lot of the priests on that retreat were convinced this would be a powerful way to pray and intercede for our country, and also to witness to the joy of bringing Jesus to our country.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens presents a plan for national Eucharistic pilgrimages, during the autumn 2022 meeting of the USCCB. Credit: JD Flynn/The Pillar.

So practically, will there be a team of people who make the entire pilgrimage, and then people who join in along the way?

We’re going to invite a core team of people to sign up and spend certain lengths of time. Each pilgrimage will take three months — and some people might do the entire three months, some might do a month.

These core teams will help to lead, and to serve. They’re the core team of people who are helping us to serve the others who come in, and they’ll be able to give testimonies along the way.

We have had lots of interest from those apostolates which work with young people, like FOCUS, or NET Ministries, and St. Paul’s Outreach. And there have been university students who have expressed interest in being a part of that core team.

The plan is that the core team would be housed in host homes as we go, and we’d invite parishes and others to welcome them along the way. And of course, there would be appropriate safe environment training and background checks for those team members.

But there are a lot of people who hope and plan to join in with us along the way. I’ve got a lot of people in the Diocese of Crookston who say they want to walk the first two weeks or so, at least. And we won’t be able to provide lodging for all those people, but for the core team we will.

Bishop, you mentioned the USCCB’s Eucharistic Revival, but you are coordinator of both the Revival and a 2024 Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, which is connected to the Revival, but has a separate organizational infrastructure from the USCCB itself.

Is this a project of the Eucharistic Revival, properly speaking, or of the Eucharistic Congress?

The Eucharistic Congress is sponsoring the pilgrimages, because they’re connected to the Congress, and really lead into the Eucharistic Congress.

And we’ll process the Blessed Sacrament, in one monstrance, obviously, into Lucas Oil Stadium the first night of the Eucharistic Congress, and make the point of what the pilgrimage processions have done — I think, actually, that a couple of testimonies from the pilgrims who’ve walked the whole way will be a part of that opening night’s program, before we bring the Blessed Sacrament into the stadium for prayer.

There have been calls for the Eucharistic Congress - and all elements of the Eucharistic Revival, really - to include the corporal works of mercy. Is that a plausible idea during these Eucharistic pilgrimages?

Absolutely.

We intend that that we would have service opportunities along the way, to perform corporal works of mercy. This has been a development that’s come from the conversation we’ve had about this among the bishops.

For example, we might pause in one city and spend time in service at a food bank after morning Mass, and then continue on.

We plan to do that at the Congress, as well  – part of our desire is to show the full impact of the Eucharist, which of course is the sacrament of charity.

There have been several bishops, I would say, who have helped us make sure that we emphasize that the Eucharist is the sacrament of charity — and we do need to be showing the social dimensions of what it means to live a Eucharistic life.

We want to show that faith in Jesus in the Eucharist is connected theologically and spiritually to the Church’s ministry of charity.

We’ll soon post the National Eucharistic Congress video, which begins with St. Mother Teresa saying that if we’re really going to live a Eucharistic life, we have to allow ourselves to be broken in service of the poor. She says ‘this is what it means to become the Bread of Life.’

Bishop, have there been concerns raised about whether these long Eucharistic pilgrimages are safe?

As we proposed this idea, a lot of bishops had a lot of questions, many of them logistical and some around security.

We do have a security firm that we've contracted with for both the Congress and the pilgrimages — that security firm is basically looking at all of our plans and giving us advice.

And then we'll also be working with civil authorities whenever that's required. Because of the size of a crowd, for example, we might need to get permits when we go through cities and things like that.

So we've contracted with a group that specializes in walking pilgrimages, and they've done walking pilgrimages all around the country, and are very used to the permitting processes for those things and working with civil authorities. This is a big deal logistically, so a team will be working full-time on this for probably a year to get all the logistics lined up.

It seems to me that even as you aim to plan well, there’s something unknown about pilgrimages — a kind of apostolic boldness to them.

Is that part of the spirituality here?

Yes. That's part of what makes it a pilgrimage —- that you set out into the unknown.

A bishop was commenting to me recently about the power of pilgrimages. He pointed out that a pilgrimage isn't just a nice thing to do. It's something - if you do it right - which brings about a deep conversion.

I hope people will experience that as they set out on this journey, that it really becomes a journey with the Lord. Part of that is the risk involved, or the pain of the walking, the not knowing where the next meal's going to come from, and trusting that the Lord's going to provide for what we need in various circumstances.

There is a deep spiritual component to this. As you look at the history of Eucharistic processions in the Church, do you expect that there might be real miracles occurring during the course of these pilgrimages?

Absolutely.

I think the Revival, in general … I have been trying to make the point that a revival is a spiritual work of God.

I think we can see that God has desired this revival — which is really what I see in the working of it, it's gotten so much bigger than I could have imagined because God's doing something.

In a spiritual work of God, I think we should expect to see miracles and healings. I think whenever you honor God by making a sacrifice, it's fruitful for the Kingdom. I expect we’re going to see that as we try to honor Him by walking across the country in this way.

You know, we really don't understand pilgrimages in our country as much as they do in Europe.

If you go to Poland where you have the annual pilgrimage to Częstochowa, or if you see what happens [in Spain] with the Camino [de Santiago de Compostela], people understand the power of pilgrimage more.

But this is a deeply Catholic thing, rooted in Catholic culture.

In fact, one of my friends who's an Eastern Catholic bishop said, ‘I think it's going to be the most powerful thing in 100 years.’

He gave an example of the Byzantine church he's from:

He said there was an ancient miraculous icon that they had to remove from a church that was being remodeled.
The priests all said, ‘Oh, let's just throw it in a pickup truck and take it across town.’
But the bishop said, ‘No, we're going to process this thing.’
Still the priests said, ‘Oh, nobody will come. It's too heavy.’
Well - according to this bishop - thousands of people came out to process with that icon, and there were healings.

Many cultures understand this well.

If you saw pictures of the Eucharistic processions on June 19, when we launched the National Eucharistic Revival, the multicultural representation was astounding. Bishop Rhoades in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend  had 2,000 people at his procession and most of them were Latinos and Asians, from Catholic cultures with a history and spirituality of these processions on a very deep level.

Catholics in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend conduct a Eucharistic procession June 19. Credit: Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

These pilgrimages will take place in the U.S., and I wonder, is there a particular spirituality of an American pilgrimage that will be different in some ways? What do you expect will be the unique spirituality of these pilgrimages?

That's a good question.

I think at least what we'll find is that there is a generation of young Catholics who are joyful and committed to their faith, and I think that this is the sort of thing that will connect with them and strengthen them and energize them.

I think they’ll bring their own 21st century young adult American joy to it.

Bishop, many of the people involved in the planning of the Eucharistic Revival and the Eucharistic Congress are relatively young — even you and Bishop Dan Flores, who is on the planning committee with you, are among younger bishops; you might be demographically Generation X or close to it.

And I would imagine that the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, which shaped a lot in the Church in the U.S., might also shape your vision here? Is there some influence of World Youth Day here?

For myself, the experience of Denver World Youth Day was foundational for my young adult life, and I see the importance of providing opportunities like that for young people today.

I think that the pilgrimages and the Congress will be opportunities like that, which could be foundational in many young adult Catholic lives in the U.S. That’s certainly what we’re praying.

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