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Article: Catholics on the move in Loretto as church's Eucharistic pilgrimage comes to region

This article, by David Hurst, appeared in The Tribune-Democrat on June 10, 2024.

Photos are by Thomas Slusser.






LORETTO, Pa. – More than 700 Catholics gathered Sunday under towering pine trees as the Catholic Church’s National Eucharistic Pilgrimage to Indianapolis passed through Loretto.

“Some Catholics snack on the Eucharist,” the Rev. Roger Landry told the crowd, but added that that isn’t enough to nourish the soul. He invited Catholics across the U.S. back into the church.


“Jesus wants to be the center of our lives,” he said. “We should have a hunger to receive the Lord every day.”


The crowd of hundreds joined Landry and Bishop Mark Bartchak, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, in Loretto for a Sunday Mass and solemn procession during one stop on an ongoing national pilgrimage held in conjunction with a three-year-long National Eucharistic Revival campaign.





Pilgrimages recently began from four origin points, one each in the north, south, east and west of the U.S. Pilgrims are making stops along the way for Masses, devotions, lectures on the Eucharist and other events.

The procession that passed through Loretto Sunday will continue through Johnstown, Altoona and Duncansville this week before all four pilgrimages converge on Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress from July 17 to July 21.





In Loretto, the historical heart of the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese, Catholic faithful gathered at Our Lady of the Alleghenies Shrine as gray clouds parted. For a moment, a vibrant rainbow appeared as Landry called on members of the crowd to recommit themselves to their faith.


They met on a sloping hill where Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, the Russian aristocrat turned Catholic priest known as the “Apostle of the Alleghenies,” converted generations to Christianity some 225 years earlier.





Landry and Bartchak reflected on that, and said Gallitzin didn’t just travel a great distance as a pit stop to preach about God. He committed himself fully to that holy mission, day after day for decades, Landry said.


He said that “the church is on the move,” but it’s a constant journey and one “we don’t make alone, provided we’re willing to turn around” and recognize Jesus.





For Thomas Hernandez, it was almost by chance that he ended up in Loretto. He is a metalworker who spent the weekend in Johnstown for the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America’s conference, and searched out a basilica like the one he attends in Phoenix.


He praised Landry’s message about making Jesus Christ a more “roots-centered” part of daily life. He was also in awe of the location selected to deliver that message.


“In Arizona, we almost never worship outdoors, and I show up here and we’re surrounded by (nature),” Hernandez said. “This was beautiful.”





The experience moved Jackie Swires, of Lilly.


“It was truly inspiring,” Swires said. “I wish every Catholic heard that message tonight.”


She and Joe Huber, of Hastings, said they hoped the message inspires people at a moment it needs to be heard.


‘I feel like too many in our country has fallen away from the church,” Huber said, “and we’re paying the price.”


There’s a “proper path,” he added, and it leads back into the church.

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