UPDATED: Seven Churches pilgrimage in central Missouri expanded Holy Thursday experience into the night


SCROLL THE ARROWS to see more photos. 

Seven churches in and near Jefferson City stayed open until midnight for prayer and pilgrimage on Holy Thursday.

People were encouraged to visit all seven after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and prayerfully contemplate seven moments leading up to Jesus’s betrayal and death.

“The Seven Churches Veneration is a powerful way to spend time in Adoration, meditating on Christ’s sacrifice of love for the salvation of souls in preparation for the joy of Easter,” said Father Jeremy Secrist, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City, who organized the pilgrimage with pastors of neighboring parishes.

In Rome, the custom is closely tied to visiting the seven major Roman basilicas. Catholics remember how Jesus asked His disciples to stay and watch with Him while they were in the garden after the Last Supper.

“It’s the intentional acceptance of Christ’s request for His disciples to keep vigil with Him, to journey with Him, and to contemplate the gift of His redeeming love, which leads to His Cross on Good Friday,” said Fr. Secrist.

Participating parishes included: St. Andrew in Holts Summit; Cathedral of St. Joseph, Immaculate Conception and St. Peter in Jefferson City; St. Martin in St. Martins; St. Francis Xavier in Taos; and St. Stanislaus in Wardsville.

At each of the seven stational churches, participants stopped to adore Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament, enthroned on an altar of repose.

They then meditated on one of the events of the first Holy Thursday following the Last Supper:

  • Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22: 39-46)
  • Jesus bound and taken before Annas (John 18: 19-22)
  • Jesus taken before the High Priest, Caiaphas (Matthew 26: 63-65)
  • Jesus taken before Pilate (John 18, 35-37)
  • Jesus taken before Herod (Luke 23: 8-9; 11)
  • Jesus taken before Pilate again (Matthew 27: 22-26); and
  • Jesus crowned with thorns (Matthew 27: 27-31).

Pilgrims read the appropriate Scripture passage for each station and engaged in private prayer and adoration.

Some concluded their pilgrimage by observing a Holy Hour at the seventh church they visited.

“Powerful experience”

Bill and Diane Lueckenhoff, their daughters Kristin Morris and Kara Pabst, son-in-law Jeff Pabst and grandchildren Olivia and Will Pabst visited all seven churches after Mass.

“It was a valuable and relevant occasion to spend time in adoration with Our Lord with our family,” said Mrs. Lueckenhoff, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in St. Thomas.

“The opportunity to venerate the seven altars of repose and reflect on appropriate Scripture readings at each altar certainly helped us to engage and follow Jesus preparing for His crucifixion,” she said.

Rose Granich, a member of St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City, said Holy Week and the Easter Triduum are always special days for her, but this opportunity for pilgrimage on Holy Thursday made them all the more so.

“Each church decorated an altar of repose where visitors could come and pray,” she said. “That alone was exciting to see as each church made it inviting for us to come and meditate on a station of the cross.”

Rose and her husband Jim spent about 15 minutes at each church. Their drive time between each included further discussions about Jesus’s sacrifice.

“Just meditating on what Our Lord went through during Passion Week and what little crosses I have in comparison to Him made me more aware of what Our Lord said to His disciples: ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test,’” said Mrs. Granich.

It brought about a change of perspective that she hopes will last throughout the year.

Shawn and Sarah Gerstner of St. Peter Parish made the pilgrimage together.

Mr. Gerstner said taking time to travel from church to church and to pause and reflect on the events Christ and His apostles experienced that night “really brought home the meaning of it all.”

“The quiet of the churches with the incense from Mass still in the air and the gathering of those participating made me think of what it was like that night for the apostles as the events unfolded, leading to Christ’s Passion,” he said. “It was a very powerful experience that we felt blessed to take part in.”

“Something very special”

St. Peter parishioner Michelle Keller said following the Lord on His journey toward the cross, through Scripture and prayer, was a powerful transition from Holy Thursday to Good Friday.  

She noted that each church provided a different environment — candles or flowers or thoughtful simplicity

“The altar looked different at each, but Jesus was still the same,” she said. “The love for us to go through this journey, was never ending.”

She also enjoyed meeting up with fellow pilgrims along the way.

“We were preparing for the cross as was He,” she said. “All of us on our own spiritual journey, we each have our own cross to carry and yet we were never alone.”

Father Donald Antweiler, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City, and Father Anthony Onyeihe, associate pastor, prayed in Immaculate Conception Church before visiting St. Peter Church and the Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish Adoration Chapel.

“It was really good,” said Fr. Antweiler. “I was amazed and inspired and pleasantly surprised by the number of people who visited our church and prayed before moving on.”

Father Roberto Ike, pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Holts Summit, said a steady stream of people visited St. Andrew Church until about 11:45 p.m.

Mrs. Granich is grateful for the effort that went into organizing and preparing the pilgrimage.

“I thank the priests from all those parishes for the hard work in putting this on for us,” she said.

Fr. Secrist said he hopes the pilgrimage becomes an annual tradition in the diocese, with the number of participants increasing each year.

“There is something very special about visiting churches late into the night,” he said.