Walking, praying with Christ through the diocese

Hundreds join in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage as part of Eucharistic Revival


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Jesus once told a man who had been sick for decades to stand up and walk.

Many who today recognize the same life-giving presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament stood up and followed him through the heart of the Jefferson City diocese.

“Christ is here with us. He’s with us every day,” said Deacon Turf Martin, who assists the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Sedalia.

“And throughout today, through tonight and into tomorrow morning when we send the pilgrims off on their way, we know he’s walking with us.”

Deacon Martin had taken part with a large contingent of local and visiting Catholics the evening of July 1 in a Eucharistic procession from Sacred Heart Chapel to St. Patrick Chapel, both in Sedalia.

Joining them were eight young laypeople who are processing across the continent by car and by foot with the Most Blessed Sacrament.

They’re taking part in the 2,200-mile St. Junipero Serra arm of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage from the West Coast to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

It’s part of the three-year Eucharistic Revival called for by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to renew understanding and belief in and increased reverence for Christ fully present in the Eucharist.

The perpetual pilgrims’ two-month journey brought them through the Jefferson City diocese via Sedalia, Pilot Grove, Boonville, Columbia, Jefferson City and Starkenburg, July 1-5.

Scheduled throughout the week were Masses, processions ranging from a half-mile through towns to 12.5 miles along the Katy Trail, shared meals, ardent catechetical sessions and all-night prayer vigils before the Most Blessed Sacrament.

“It all comes back to the Eucharist,” said Deacon Martin. “Once we realize that God himself, through the Holy Spirit, changes the substance of ordinary bread into his Body, of ordinary wine into his Blood and gives himself to us, we experience him differently because we know that he becomes a part of us.

“People will surely recognize this change in us by the way we act,” the deacon said.

Walking and kneeling

Father David Veit, pastor of St. Brendan Parish in Mexico, offered Mass in the chapel of the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City July 1 for the summer camp and Totus Tuus missionaries who would be helping with the pilgrimage.

He noted that it was the memorial feastday of St. Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who founded missions throughout California and sowed some of the earliest seeds of the Church there.

Fr. Veit noted that St. Junipero often evangelized through symbols and action before learning the language of the people he was encountering.

“Today, we rejoice, and we give thanks, that by our Baptism, God strengthened us, to allow our hearts to be so conformed to his, that we would show his image to all the world,” he said.

 “He’s now here!” Father Joseph Luzindana told the people who were about to take part in the July 1 Eucharistic procession in Sedalia. “He walked the streets of Jerusalem, of Galilee, of Capernaum. And he’s going to walk in our streets and bless us!”

The people gathered in the driveway outside Sacred Heart School as Father Brad Berhorst, associate pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, carried the Eucharist out of the Sacred Heart Chapel in an ornate monstrance.

Priests and deacons from local parishes and seminarians of the diocese gathered around him while parishioners held a richly decorated canopy known as a baldachino over him.

People rang bells and sang hymns while following the Body of Christ down city streets.

A cool breeze swayed the fringe of the baldachino as the sun settled more deeply behind the buildings.

Inside St. Patrick Chapel, the singing grew more intense as participants flowed in and took to their knees in the pews.

Ushers counted 283 people present.

Fr. Berhorst carried the Most Blessed Sacrament to the altar and knelt down in adoration.

Priests heard Confessions in English and Spanish well past 10 p.m. while the hymns and prayers continued.

The vigil lasted through the night until Father Joseph Corel, pastor, offered Mass at 6:30 a.m.

Adoration and Confessions would be held in similar fashion on the nights that followed.

Never the same

Talks by priests each evening focused on the Eucharistic actions of Christ, through which he gave himself to his Apostles at the Last Supper and continues to do so at every Mass.

Namely, he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.

“You give and he takes, and great things happen,” said Fr. Luzindana. “Whatever you offer to God as a sacrifice, he’s going to accept it and transform it, just as he turned water into wine and turned five barley loaves and two fish into enough food to feed 5,000.

“It’s something you actively participate in,” the priest said. “You become united with Jesus, and I tell you, you’ll never be the same again!”

Wherever Jesus went, he also took burdens, tears, sins and shame and transformed them, as well.

“God wants to take something from you,” said Fr. Luzindana.

“So, bring your burdens to him. For those who have been crying, he will bring tears of joy. For those who have never known his presence, he is coming. He will take everything we give him and transform it.”

Given in love

Also presenting each evening were one of the perpetual pilgrims and two local people giving witness to the power of the Eucharist in their lives.

Pilgrim Jack Krebs from Wisconsin talked about some of the towns and cities the group had visited since the pilgrimage began.

“Wherever you are with the Eucharist, God wants to take you deeper,” he said.

Mr. Krebs urged everyone to approach the altar each Sunday and “ask Jesus what he wants to do in your life, personally” — in the coming weeks, months and years.

Annette Barnes, who became Catholic through the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) this past Easter, talked about her interest in the Eucharist being piqued after finding out what her children were learning at Sacred Heart School in Sedalia.

She was ultimately drawn to the truth upheld by the Church that Jesus truly gives himself as spiritual nourishment “because he loves us.”

Lifelong Sedalia parishioner Bob Simon remembered his childhood excitement at getting to receive his First Holy Communion.

“Even though I didn’t understand what was being offered to me in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, I began to take my faith seriously and try to live it,” said Mr. Simon.

He recalled encountering Christ’s relentless love on a Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreat while in high school.

God continues to renew Mr. Simon and give him peace every time he receives the Eucharist, especially over the past two years, when he has experienced loss in his family.

“The more I understand the gift of Christ in the Eucharist, the more I desire to receive him,” he said. “The Eucharist is truly the source and summit of my faith.”

The miracle

Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau visited this diocese to offer early-morning Mass for the pilgrims in Boonville on July 3.

“I pray that the National Eucharistic Congress will be the beginning of something good, something prayerful, something mystical for the Catholic Church in the United States,” he said in his homily.

He pointed out that the miracle of the Mass occurs when the priest pronounces the words of Jesus: “This is my Body ... this is my Blood.”

 “Christ himself, living and glorious,” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is present in a true, real and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity.”

Jesus states further, “Do this in memory of me.”

“With that mandate to remember his actions and words, every Mass celebrated draws us into his life, his death and his resurrection, as he intercedes in the presence of the Father,” said Bishop Rice.

The bishop emphasized that the people at Mass are not merely spectators.

“Every one of us is united with the sacrifice of Christ, and along with Christ, we are offered to the Father,” he said.

Bishop W. Shawn Mc­Knight was to offer Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City the morning of July 5, followed by a Eucharistic procession in nearby Memorial Park.

“Where we are”

Mr. Krebs predicted that throughout the week, people taking part in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage would develop a stronger conviction of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

He shared stories of accompanying and adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament through some of the most scenic landscapes in the country.

It felt very much like stories in the Bible of people walking with Jesus as he taught and healed them, he said.

“I’m really just walking with Jesus out here,” said Mr. Krebs. “These Gospel stories aren’t dead. In in a unique way for us, they’re coming to life as we journey with him.”

The  pilgrims have witnessed great unity and diversity within the Church, along with deep faith and a desire to put it into practice.

Perpetual missionary Jaella Mac Au, a senior at the University of Georgia, said the Lord has been revealing himself to her through all the people she’s encountered on the Pilgrimage.

“Our Church is so alive, and it’s just such a blessing to be a part of it,” she said.

She recalled visiting California’s maximum-security Folsom State Prison for men with nine other pilgrims and praying with about 70 of the prison’s residents.

She spoke of the range of processions she’d gotten to be part of — from about 30 people in rural areas to thousands of people in big cities.

She called to mind the enthusiastic welcome the pilgrims received from Discalced Carmelite nuns in their cloistered monastery in Utah.

She talked about people’s impromptu reactions to the Eucharistic processions, with runners and cyclists stopping and kneeling down before the Lord.

“The important thing is that the Lord is so willing and so desiring to go exactly where we’re at, and it is so beautiful to see,” Miss Mac Au said.

Out on the trail

At 6:30 a.m. Mass before the procession, Fr. Corel spoke of God feeding his people manna in the desert, and Jesus feeding the 5,000 as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.

“The Lord Jesus told them, ‘I will give you true everlasting life in the Bread that truly comes down from heaven — my Body, my Blood, my Soul, my Divinity,’” said Fr. Corel.

“We know that in just a moment, we once again are going to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ,” he stated. “And then, as a Eucharistic people, we will take him out into the world that so desperately needs him.”

People from around the diocese joined the pilgrims on all or part of a 12.5-mile Eucharistic procession July 2 on the Katy Trail from Sedalia to Pilot Grove.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to bring people of all ages together,” said Ellen Kussman, a member of St. Boniface Parish in Brunswick.

The time in prayerful contemplation helped her reach greater depth of faith in God and appreciation of his gift of the Eucharist.

“Coming from a small, rural community, something like this is very engaging,” she said. “It helps put into perspective religion and faith — and celebrating all of this with other Catholics, that’s pretty powerful.”

Misty Werkmeister, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Centralia, had a powerful experience of Adoration a few years ago with thousands of fellow Catholics at a National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). 

“So, when this opportunity came and it was combined with being outside on the trail, I saw it as a chance to walk with Jesus for real!” she said.

She enjoyed praying and singing hymns and meeting people from other parishes.

Kate Hodel, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Camdenton, partook of the procession with her husband.

She said it was awesome for them to walk with Jesus.

“The whole notion of people getting together and publicly proclaiming what we believe seemed really important to me,” she said.

Praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet communally along the way touched her soul.

“It’s just amazing how close you can feel to Christ among his people,” she said.

Become like him

Maureen Quinn, diocesan director of religious education and youth/young adult ministry, said she was amazed by people’s sacrifices and generosity to help make this pilgrimage possible.

“The man handing out water, the woman handing out turkey rollups, the people driving, those planning liturgies — each person is walking this pilgrimage with Christ,” she said.

Deacon Martin said he believes the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is awakening many souls.

“I think we’ll see a lot of people come to Mass with a different perspective after being part of this experience,” he said.

Mr. Krebs said he’s come to realize that God is calling those who receive Christ in the Eucharist “to become what we receive.”

“All of these things that I’ve been reflecting on about the Eucharistic heart of our Lord — his humility, his hiddenness, his self-emptying sacrifice — all of these things I’m supposed to become also,” he said.

Miss Mac Au noted that the third year of the Eucharistic Revival is devoted to mission, inviting people to share what they believe and invite others to do likewise.

“This pilgrimage is really a kick-start to this year of mission and not being afraid to speak the name of the Lord and invite others to Mass as well,” she said.