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Article: Pilgrims point to prison visit as special moment in diocese

We thank the team from The Catholic Times for this article on July 8 about this special visit as part of the Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

The priests, lay pilgrims and religious sisters on the Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will have traveled through 18 dioceses and eight states by the time they make their way into Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress on July 17-21.

Seven of the 60 days on the road from Connecticut to Indiana were spent in the Diocese of Columbus. The group left Monday, July 1 for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati feeling a little weary but determined to reach the finish line.

During those six days in the diocese, the pilgrimage brought Christ to the birthplace of Catholicism in Ohio at Somerset St. Joseph Church on June 24 after their arrival from the Diocese of Steubenville; Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient; the Mother Angeline McCrory Manor in Columbus for the aged and infirmed on June 28; one of the largest parishes in the state, Westerville St. Paul the Apostle Church, on June 29; the mother church, St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Columbus, on June 30 and to several other destinations.

At a gathering outside the Cathedral after Sunday Mass and a Eucharistic procession, the pilgrims and Father Roger Landry, the chaplain on the Seton Route, reflected on their time in the diocese.

“We've done the same things here as we've done in other places -- beautiful Masses, periods of Adoration, processions in the streets,” Father Landry said. “We were also for the first time in any of the four routes able to get inside of a prison and bring the Lord Jesus who came to set prisoners free into a place where he could give them that interior liberation to help them in a sense spiritually to break out of jail because he is the one who makes us free for freedom. The bishop and his whole team live out the corporal works of mercy, especially caring for those prisoners who often so forgotten.

“And so I just want you to know that there's something unique going on here in the Diocese of Columbus. God's really working. Jesus is very much loved. Never take that for granted.”

Dominic Carstens, a pilgrim who lives in Wyoming and attends Wyoming Catholic College, summarized the time in the diocese as “wonderful.”

“Getting to go to St. Paul, the Mass was beautiful and we had a huge church with standing room only,” he said. “It’s that sort of witness of people coming out for the Lord is really what we love to see.

“And it’s not only the numbers, what’s more important is the depth of faith. And when we went to the prison, actually wherever you go, finding people that love the Lord so much and so deeply, the love of Christ can get through any wall or gate. He will go to you when you’re 95 years old living in a nursing home or when you’re incarcerated. And so just seeing the love of Christ manifest itself in people in both their joy and jubilation it’s just so special.”

The visits to Pickaway Correctional and McCrory Manor were particularly memorable moments for him in the diocese.

“Both were very profound in the sense that when Christ was on earth, He went to the outskirts of society … (and so) both into prison and in the elderly, that's where Christ that's where Christ belongs,” he said. “Every one of us has their own little place that we keep hidden away from society because we're scared -- our places of hurt and darkness. But Christ wants to come there too.

“This pilgrimage is a visible manifestation of the most epic love story ever to exist. And so it just revives me and just reminds me interiorly of the true reality that we all participate.”

He said the pilgrimage has served as a constant reminder that Christ is present everywhere. Bringing Christ to the margins of society, not only to the prisons and the elderly but to the Kensington area of Philadelphia, where the pilgrims walked the streets with the Blessed Sacrament in a neighborhood that’s considered the drug capital of the world

“He doesn't want to just visit us in the nice, glamorous Manhattan,” Carstens said. “He wants to come to the Kensingtons. He wants to meet us and give us love to the deepest, darkest places.”

Zoe Dongas, a Filipino-American pilgrim who lives in New York, also pointed to the prison and McCrory Manor as two of the highlights in the diocese for her.

“It was just beautiful to be with the people that are often forgotten, that the Lord so greatly desires to bless and to be with and particularly celebrating Mass in the correctional institution in a room that had bright lights and limited resources,” she said. “It was like being in any great cathedral or any great church because of the faith of the men and the presence of our Lord and that space.”

After the Mass and procession at the prison, the pilgrims were able to talk with the men, hear their stories and collect prayer intentions.

“My heart is really moved by their honesty and their desire for Jesus, to be close to him, especially in the Eucharist,” she said.

Other highlights during the two-month pilgrimage for her included a visit in May to the Statue of Liberty. The pilgrims traveled by boat with the Blessed Sacrament and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York to Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

“Just a really beautiful moment, a blessing, with a statue that's meant to represent liberty with the One who gives us true liberation and true freedom, Jesus Christ,” she said. “Getting to do that with Cardinal Dolan and with our pilgrims -- a small group of people on a boat just as Jesus would be with his disciples – it was just so beautiful.”

She said the pilgrimage has allowed her to witness how different communities come together and how they worship in various styles, “but Jesus is at the center, and at the core of all of it all in the Eucharist.

“It's been beautiful to witness the reverence people have for Jesus in the Eucharist. And I want to continue to cultivate that in my own life -- the importance of Jesus in the Eucharist and to never take a moment with him or time with him for granted, to always like have him at the center of my own life and to have my life be a witness to the truth.”

Christoph Bernas, a seminarian in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, was impressed with the turnouts and the organization at the parishes that hosted the pilgrimage, including the reception that Father Landry received when he celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on June 26 at Pickerington St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.

“Everywhere we went, there were a lot of people there,” he said. “People knew what was going on. People knew we were in town and they responded.

“It's been really powerful to see like how many people there are out in the pews who believe in the Real Presence because they can throw out all stats, but the fact that we're getting really large crowds to come on and adore the Lord with us is really powerful.”

Amayrani Higueldo, a native of Mexico who lives in Philadelphia, found the pilgrimage to be more than just spending time with Jesus. Along the way, she met people from diverse backgrounds who shared a love for the Lord.

“There's something so unique and special about this diocese,” she said. “One of my favorite experiences, where I received a lot of graces, was being able to go into a prison and just bring Jesus into that facility. … The walls really cannot limit his mercy.

“Just having them be a witness to me was such a great grace -- hearing your stories and being able to sit with them and just talk and share with them about what we're doing across our country. They were so excited and so happy to be a part of it.”

Dongas encouraged all who attended Masses, Adoration or processions during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage to continue to be passionate in their love for the Lord.

“And I want to thank all of the families who brought their children that are witnesses to the importance of family life in the faith,” she said. “Please continue to share this pilgrimage with your family members. Bring your children to church because it is the heartbeat of our faith.”


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