Local Catholics look ahead to National Eucharistic Pilgrimage encounter

Before Catholics from throughout the U.S. converge on Indianapolis on July 17-21 for the National Eucharistic Congress, travelers who are part of the Marian Route, one of four routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, will be hosted by members of the local Church in 11 locations on the tour map.
National Eucharistic Pilgrimage leaders call the historic journey of faith “a response to God’s invitation for renewal.” They have stated that “the fire is spreading,” as they solidify plans for routes, drawing believers from north, south, east and west, covering 6,500 miles in 60 total days on the road.
Besides those on the Marian Route who will travel from Minnesota through the Diocese of Gary to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and then through the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana to gather in Indianapolis, the “Crossroads of America,” will be pilgrims on the St. Juan Diego Route from Texas, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route from Connecticut, and the St. Junipero Serra Route from California.
Parish leaders and other volunteers throughout the Diocese of Gary are preparing logistics for the events that are slated from July 1-5. But some clergymen encourage the faithful to ponder more on the question of “why” and less on the specific itinerary for the pilgrimage.
“There is so much we can learn from a pilgrimage,” said Father Roque Meraz, associate pastor of St. Paul in Valparaiso. “You prepare to go on a journey, but of course, you cannot take everything with you … that helps with detachment and that helps with trusting in God.”
Father Meraz said volunteers are intently preparing to provide Hoosier hospitality for the main group of lay people, young adults, seminarians and religious who will compose a core of “perpetual pilgrims” making the entire journey with the Eucharistic Lord in a monstrance.
Regarding specific preparations to host visitors, Father Meraz said the travelers’ lodging has already been arranged. Parishioners at St. Paul plan to distribute care bags with snacks and beverages for local walkers. Their role is to greet a phalanx of people walking in Eucharistic Procession from St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center in Valparaiso and then host the faithful for Evening Prayer and Benediction. A concert by the parish Life Teen band is slated to follow.
“We never know the potential of a historical moment,” Father Meraz explained. “The more people that we have walking from St. T’s to St. Paul, it will be a great witness to the Valparaiso area to see all of those people who came because they truly believe that Jesus is present in this consecrated host.”
The dividends of pilgrimage are both personal and reflective of the outward facing goal of the pilgrimage – to evangelize a spiritually hungry nation. “This offers a great opportunity for spiritual growth. It is very difficult for someone who goes on a pilgrimage to come back the same,” Father Meraz added.
Highlighted on the itinerary for the national pilgrimage are sacred sites. A stop at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion near Green Bay, Wisc. is a one way pilgrims will be “honoring our patroness,” according to the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. The site honors the only Church-approved Marian apparition in the U.S., which has been recognized as such since 2010.
An appreciation for nature is also evident in the planning of the Eucharistic pilgrimage. The journey begins on the weekend of May 17-19, with a Pentecost Sunday Mass at Lake Itasca, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Many miles of farmland, prairies, small towns and cities will be traversed as the Marian Route pilgrims make their way through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Though one of the cardinal virtues of the pilgrimage is to encourage fellowship and evangelization in a natural setting, it is not the Camino de Santiago in Spain, as many miles will be covered in motor vehicles. National and local event organizers said walking stretches and processions will be guided through safe areas where traffic delays will be minimized.
Pilgrims are set to arrive in Indiana on Monday, July 1, when members of the St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church family will invite the pilgrims for prayer with the Eucharist in the Whiting church before departing on a procession through the city, according to Father Andrew Summerson, pastor.
Whiting Lakefront Park will be the setting for a benediction service led by Bishop Robert J. McClory, followed by fellowship on the Lake Michigan shore. 
“The Eucharist is something that belongs to both Eastern and Western Catholics; it’s one of the joys of being Eastern Catholics that we are in communion with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary. To do anything of this nature requires that we do it together as the whole Catholic Church,” said Father Summerson who, along with Mike Aquilina of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, will present short talks about the Eucharist on July 1.
Queen of All Saints parish in Michigan City is on the final leg of the pilgrimage’s route through Northwest Indiana. Pastoral associate Lucia Bim-Merle said the efforts to provide hospitality and a hub of activity for multiple churches in the area focuses on the spiritual and temporal.
“When we first found out that the Marian pilgrimage will make its stop at Michigan City on the Fourth of July, we erupted like an image of fireworks,” Bim-Merle said. “We think it is so awesome that our Lord is coming on the day we celebrate as a nation, but more importantly that He is coming to be with us to celebrate this beautiful event.”
Many Catholics will recall that the National Eucharistic Revival began on the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 19, 2022 with a year devoted to dioceses and then parishes.    
Bim-Merle hopes that on the public witness front, the efforts in Michigan City can shine brightly.
“Last year we did a city-wide Corpus Christi procession which we tied into the National Eucharistic Revival, creating a Michigan City Eucharistic revival logo which we used to promote the event,” she explained.
The branding will be tweaked to reflect the connection with the nationwide pilgrimage. “We’re going to make shirts that all of us who go to the congress will wear to identify us from Michigan City,” Bim-Merle added.
Bim-Merle said the Independence Day events will serve as a “springboard” for a meditation that QAS pastor Father David Kime will deliver about true freedom being found in Christ, “We appreciate the gift of our independence and also our deep roots in the Catholic faith.”

The Marian Route’s movement of core pilgrims and faithful seeking to join them in the Diocese of Gary includes 11 locations visited in five days: 

July 1: St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church (Whiting) and Whiting Lakefront Park 
July 2: St. Michael the Archangel (Schererville) and St. Mary of the Lake (Gary)
July 3: Nativity of Our Savior (Portage), St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center (Valparaiso) and St. Paul (Valparaiso)
July 4: Queen of All Saints (Michigan City) and St. John the Evangelist (St. John) 
July 5: Sacred Heart/Holy Family (LaPorte) and St. John Kanty (Rolling Prairie)

For more details, visit https://dcgary.org/2024Pilgrimage.