Pilgrimages offer opportunity for faithful to be renewed in their faith

Summer vacation time is near, and many families are busy planning for upcoming travel. For those looking to deepen their faith while on vacation, there are pilgrimages being offered by area pastors throughout the Diocese of Gary. While two are relatively close to home, others will take pilgrims to European destinations.
According to Lucia Bim-Merle, pastoral associate at Queen of All Saints, Michigan City, the concept of a pilgrimage is ancient as people traveled to Jerusalem as a holy site. Catholics continued that tradition as they traveled to holy sites in hopes of receiving grace or with prayer intentions. 
Bim-Merle said one Catholic tradition is to visit a site designated as a shrine to the Blessed Mother, Mary, during the month of May. Father David Kime will lead a pilgrimage to two Marian sites in Wisconsin during an overnight trip on May 30-31.
The group will first visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion, the first and only approved Marian apparition site in the United States. It is where Mary appeared to a young Adele Brise in a wooded area near Champion, Wis.
The following day, the group will visit the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wis.
“It being a Marian pilgrimage gives us the opportunity to focus on Our Lady as we travel,” said Bim-Merle. “Champion is an important shrine for us as Catholics because of its newly-recognized status as an approved apparition site and approved as a national shrine.”
“It’s a simpler experience that also allows us to keep the costs down so that more people can afford to come with us. It’s a nice combination of affordability and availability” said Bim-Merle.
Room is still available on the bus. Contact Bim-Merle at lucia@qas.org or 872-9196 for more information.
For those seeking a ‘spirited’ pilgrimage, Father Nate Edquist, pastor of Holy Family Parish in LaPorte, will lead a group along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, where pilgrims will experience a faith-filled journey infused with social time at the state’s finest distilleries.
“We wanted to take on a new flavor, a new drink of choice so to speak, but to utilize the opportunity to bring people together through things they may like which, of course, is spirits as well as a very spirited journey to our treasured sites of our faith,” said Father Edquist.
A group of 20 visited California missions and wineries last year on a successful five-day pilgrimage. This year the goal was a bus trip within driving distance. The trip is limited to 40 people, with seats still available.
This year’s pilgrimage will primarily focus on the Louisville, Covington, Bardstown areas where the group will visit cathedrals, including the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral and other Catholic sites, including the Abbey and Basilica of Our Lady of Gethsemani.
“We wanted to dive into the Catholic presence in Kentucky. It’s not just known for bourbon, it also has a pretty strong passion for the Catholic faith down there, too,” said Father Edquist.   
Father Chris Stanish, Diocese of Gary vicar general and moderator of the curia, has been leading pilgrimages nearly every year since he was ordained, and this year he will lead a group of 50 on a tour of locations in France in May.  
The group will fly to Paris and make their way to Normandy, where they will visit the site where St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. While in Normandy, they will also spend time at Omaha Beach, where allied forces landed during World War II. Other locations include Mont Saint Michel Abbey, Lisieux, Paris and Lourdes.
“I try to offer a nice balance between seeing something and having time to just soak in the environment and atmosphere, as well as time for prayers and Mass,” said Father Stanish. “Because our faith is so much a part of the daily thread of life, my pilgrimages are a balance of faith and culture. That way people understand how these are intertwined and they can experience them. It takes on a deeper meaning and purpose.”
“One of the great things about pilgrimages is that it takes people out of their comfort zone and puts them into a completely new environment. They get to experience Christ in a new way,” he shared.
Early next year, Father Stanish will team up with Father Declan McNicholas, associate pastor of St. John the Evangelist, St. John, as chaplains for their second Good News Marriage Cruise. The marriage cruise is a fun, relaxing, and rejuvenating Catholic cruise that includes inspiring speakers and daily Mass for couples from newlyweds to well-seasoned spouses. The cruise runs from Jan. 5-11, 2025
Father Leo Gajardo will once again be on familiar ground for part of his excursion. The pastor of St. Maria Goretti in Dyer will lead a pilgrimage to Italy beginning Sept. 10. Father Gajardo spent time in Rome for his doctoral studies in 2019 and now returns for a 10-day trip with a group of pilgrims to tour various Italian sites.
After landing in Rome, the group will travel to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Then they will head back north to Nettuno, hometown of St. Maria Goretti, Father Gajardo’s parish patron saint. They will conclude the trip with a few days in Rome.   
“Since she’s our patron, I thought it would be interesting and good to know a little bit more about her and take people from the parish there,” said Father Gajardo. “When I was in Rome as a student, I never had a chance to go to Nettuno to visit the Shrine of St. Maria Goretti, so I wanted to include that.”
Father Gajardo shared that he had led pilgrimages to Mexico and the Holy Land in the past.  
“I’ve had the opportunity to lead pilgrimages before. It’s always amazing to see how the group really comes together in a wonderful way,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for the group to be renewed and strengthen in their faith.”


Caption: Members of the Holy Family Parish pilgrimage group, including Father Nate Edquist, pastor of the parish, tour a mission during the parish’s 2023 pilgrimage to California’s wine country and missions/Holy sites in September 2023. (Photo supplied by Maggie LeRoy)