Eucharistic pilgrimage brings 'joyous,' 'amazing' experience to Maryland shrine

EMMITSBURG, Md. (OSV News) -- Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore described the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage's June 6 stop at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg as a "joyous" occasion.

The emotion was prevalent throughout the day as the national journey leading to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July paid tribute to the patron of the pilgrimage's eastern Seton Route.

Archbishop Lori celebrated a morning Mass at the shrine, which was followed by a Eucharistic procession through the Frederick County town of 6,000.

More than 1,100 participated in the Mass and procession, which was one of the largest gatherings of the pilgrimage, according to Seton Route spokesperson Kevin Shinkle.

Rob Judge, executive director of the Seton Shrine for the past 13 years, said it was the most well attended event at the shrine since Mother Seton's canonization in 1975.

"What a blessing, what a grace," Archbishop Lori said in his homily about the stop in Emmitsburg.

"When I originally heard the Seton Shrine would be one of the stops for the eucharistic pilgrimage, I was so, so happy," Archbishop Lori said before Mass. "It's the home of the first American-born saint, Baltimore was the first diocese in the United States and Mount St. Mary's (located in Emmitsburg) was the second seminary in the United States. So it's very fitting."

The pilgrimage's stop in Maryland is a welcome respite for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which has dealt with parish mergers and Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the past several months.

"We've had challenges," Archbishop Lori told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan news outlet. "But an event like this is exactly why I became a priest -- to share in the love of Christ. And the Eucharist is Jesus' gift of himself to us."

Archbishop Lori said he hoped the Eucharistic pilgrimage will serve as a source of inspiration for the "unchurched" and inactive Catholics.

"It says a lot about the state of the church to have such an incredible and vibrant event," he said. "An event like this reinforces that our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ and the Eucharist."

In his homily, Archbishop Lori gave a brief history of Elizabeth Ann Seton's journey from a wife and mother to becoming a Catholic and the founder of a religious order and Catholic schools. He noted her devotion to the Eucharist and said he hoped everyone could be "overtaken" by the same faith in the body and blood of Christ as the saint.

Those in Emmitsburg, who came from near and far, said they were certainly moved by the saint's spirit.

One group of 40 traveled by bus from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to celebrate the patron of their parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Joe Kruger, a Dundalk native who later moved with his family to Hanover, Pennsylvania, traveled all the way from Columbus, Ohio, to share in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage events earlier in the week in Pennsylvania and then in Emmitsburg. He said he has quite the legacy with the town since his sixth great-grandfather donated much of the land for Mount St. Mary's University and the shrine.

Kruger, whose late father, Charles, was a deacon for the Baltimore and Harrisburg dioceses, said his ancestors were the first to settle Emmitsburg in the 1730s and did so because they had been persecuted for their Catholic faith in Southern Maryland.

"This has been an incredible trip," Kruger said, "Tuesday was amazing in Hanover (Pa.), and this has been another great celebration. We often visit Emmitsburg as a family, but this was really special."

The word many repeated to describe the event was "amazing."

"Kudos to our area for showing up in such force," said Pat Murphy of Leesburg, Virginia. "This is amazing."

Judge, the shrine's executive director, said he was thrilled that the pilgrimage honored the site's rich Catholic heritage.

"It's great to be able to further the knowledge and love for the Eucharist because that is what attracted St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to the Catholic faith and what became such a big part of her mission," Judge said. "An event like this helps us fulfill and promote her mission. She is one of the most relatable Saints whether it be as a mother, a layperson, as an educator or her ministry. A national initiative like this helps people become more acquainted with her. We were very fortunate that she was chosen as one of the patrons for this event."

Msgr. Andrew Baker, rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary, said it was "awesome to see so many people here adoring our Lord. It's humbling. We are in awe of the number of people. I don't think Emmitsburg has seen anything like this since I've been here. It's an incredible sign and can be used as a catalyst for our church, which has experienced some discouraging times."

The Maryland stop started in Westminster June 5 and after the June 6 events in Emmitsburg, continued with vespers and eucharistic preaching at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, which also hosted a June 7 morning Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption and other events before the pilgrimage continued on to Washington.

Besides the Seton Route, three other National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes launched in other parts of the country (north, south and west) are in full swing. The four routes will converge on Indianapolis July 16 for the National Eucharistic Congress, which takes place July 17-21.

- - - Gerry Jackson is on the staff of the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.