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Article: At Emmitsburg Shrine, Pilgrims Follow Mother Seton's 'Eucharistic Fire' Sharing Jesus

This article, by Kimberley Heatherington, appeared in OSV News on June 13.

Worshippers take part in a procession in Emmitsburg, Md., June 6, 2024, a stop on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage's Seton Route. The route schedule included a stop at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and at Mount St. Mary's University and Seminary. (OSV News photo/National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton)

EMMITSBURG, Md. (OSV News) — On June 6, Jesus Christ was passing through Emmitsburg — an experience that gave a glimpse into the life-changing encounter behind the Maryland town’s famous saint.

Winding for almost 2 miles through the streets of the historic Maryland town — founded in 1785, tucked in the folds of a surrounding mountain ridge, and sprinkled with picturesque 18th- and 19th-century brick and clapboard architecture — Jesus in the Eucharist was held aloft, in rotation, in a shining gold monstrance carried by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and several priests as the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage reached its 20th day.

From routes north, south, east and west, small groups of young people and clergy in Eucharistic procession with Christ are on their way to converge on Indianapolis for the July 17-21 10th National Eucharistic Congress. These “perpetual pilgrims” have been joined by local “Eucharistic caravans” for portions of their journey, part of the U.S. bishops’ three-year National Eucharistic Revival aimed at reviving Catholic belief in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.

Despite its small size and just a few more than 3,000 residents, Emmitsburg — home to the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first canonized American-born saint, as well as Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, which has prepared men for the Catholic priesthood since 1808 — was unquestionably a required stop on the national pilgrimage’s Seton Route that had begun its 1,100-plus mile journey May 18 in New Haven, Connecticut, at the parish tomb of Knights of Columbus founder Blessed Michael McGivney.

Invoking St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in his homily, Archbishop Lori told an estimated 1,500 gathered for Mass at the shine’s basilica, “The mystery of the Eucharist, the true presence of Christ’s body and blood had what I might call ‘a gravitational pull’ on her heart and mind and spirit.”

Born to a prominent New York Episcopalian family in 1774, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1805 and eventually founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph — the first U.S. community for religious women — and laid the foundation of the parochial school system in America.

Her shrine in Emmitsburg features a basilica with Mother Seton’s remains, a new, $4 million state-of-the-art museum, two residences where she and her community lived and worked, and more.

Archbishop Lori reminded his listeners how, prior to her conversion, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton “spontaneously knelt in the street when a Eucharistic procession passed by. It was a moment of encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Engaging such an authentic and spiritually perceptive response is at the very center of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

“As we trace the Seton Route along the East Coast,” Archbishop Lori said, “may we be overtaken by the same Eucharistic faith that animated the life and vocations of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.”

Immediately after the conclusion of Mass, the first of two Eucharistic pilgrimages for the day began, processing almost 2 miles through Emmitsburg with pauses at Mother Seton Catholic School, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and a cemetery beside the Seton Shrine. A 3.7 mile procession later in the day — following lunch from a variety of food trucks — walked “in the footsteps of Mother Seton,” visiting Mount St. Mary’s University and Seminary and the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

In both cases, several hundred pilgrims — priests, men and women religious, Knights of Columbus and other faithful — made the trek, singing hymns and reciting litanies and other prayers along the way.

Father Roger Landry, the Seton Route’s chaplain, said he’s been “overwhelmed by the amount of people who come up with tears in their eyes, just thanking — not even having words adequately to express their thanks.”

He said, “They are just so grateful that this National Eucharistic Pilgrimage with the Lord Jesus has visited their parish church; has visited their neighborhood; has walked straight by their front porch when they happened to be there.”

As the pilgrims made their way to Emmitsburg — complete with torrential downpours, tornado warnings and painful blisters on their feet — Father Landry said they offered up “a litany of thanks all day long.”

Some onlookers were not quite sure what they were seeing as the Eucharistic procession passed by them.

“When we were going through the Bronx,” said Father Landry, “we were walking through sidewalk cafes, everything else — people were asking the same question the ancient Jews did in the desert: ‘What is this?’ Manna — this is the True Manna, come down from heaven. They were asking what it was.”

“And,” Father Landry reported, “we were able to say, very quickly, not just, ‘This is the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’ — which would be true — but, led by a lot of our young people who were journeying with us, they were just simply saying a one-word answer: ‘Jesus.'”

The invocation of that name, Father Landry observed, had a deep impact.

“Once we said that word, ‘Jesus’ — and they saw a huge manifestation of love for Jesus — they were interested in finding out more,” said Father Landry.

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal also walking the route — clad in gray habits with rosary beads dangling from their white cinctures — were likewise prepared, distributing small cards bearing a full-color image of Christ with a dazzling gold foil halo, the logo and website of the National Eucharistic Revival, and a QR code that invited recipients to “join the movement!”

“When we were in Kensington — the most opioid-addicted place in the country, in Philadelphia — walking under the elevated subway trains,” Father Landry said, “many people on the outside — literally who needed to be picked up — once they grasped that Jesus Christ was passing by and that we were trying to bring him even to that neighborhood, started to join us.”

For the six young adult perpetual pilgrims — all between the ages of 19-29 — traveling the entire Seton Route, its namesake has been a continuous inspiration.

“In like a small way to imitate her, I’m willing to stake what I have for Jesus in the Eucharist — because this is really important for the life of the church,” said actor-musician Zoe Dongas from New York City, who forfeited her job to join the pilgrimage. “And I do believe that Jesus — by walking through the streets of our country — is coming to bless it, and to bring us all to him in the Most Blessed Sacrament.”

One of the pilgrims has been traveling with a first-class relic of Mother Seton — provided by the Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg — each day of the journey, emphasized Father Landry. “So we keep her very, very close as we seek to imitate her Eucharistic love; follow her Eucharistic fire and desire to pass it on, and try to be for others the same type of model she is for us,” he said.

Marina Frattaroli, a 2024 graduate from Columbia Law School and a parishioner at the Church of Notre Dame in New York City, joined the Catholic Church in December 2022. Like Mother Seton, she said, “I’m a convert — I joined the Catholic Church in my 20s. And so I see her as such a model of what it means to kind of die for Christ in the act of conversion, and to let Jesus transform you, and become a new person.”

Frattaroli, who carried Mother Seton’s relic, then added, “And that’s somewhat what pilgrimage feels like, too — as we live a totally different life than we normally would.”

Despite the impact of recent decades of the abuse scandal, diocesan bankruptcies, and parish eliminations and mergers upon the Catholic Church in the U.S., a spirit of hope, energy and renewal has accompanied the pilgrims processing with Jesus in the Eucharist toward the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

“We’re seeing the best of the church today, as people — so grateful — come out to meet the same Lord we love,” Father Landry reflected. “Those types of experiences are overwhelmingly exhilarating — and that is a greater source of fuel than the fuel we’re expending step by step.”

“Every day,” the pilgrims’ chaplain said , “has seemed like a week of Easter Sunday liturgies.”

Kimberley Heatherington writes for OSV News from Virginia.


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