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Article: Meet the young Catholic pilgrims who will walk thousands of miles with the Eucharist this summer

By Jonah McKeown, Peter Pinedo

CNA Staff

Mar 12, 2024

A group of two dozen young Catholic pilgrims will walk thousands of miles across the United States this summer, carrying Jesus Christ in the Eucharist through city streets and the countryside, converging at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress. 

Collectively, the pilgrims will walk over 6,500 miles and will traverse four different routes, beginning on opposite sides of the country and meeting in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21. Catholics throughout the U.S. are encouraged to register to join the pilgrims in walking short sections of the pilgrimages and joining in numerous other special events put on by their local diocese.

All between the ages of 19 and 29, the 24 “Perpetual Pilgrims” — six per route — have committed to giving up their summer and braving sun and rain to help the U.S. bishops rededicate the country to Christ in the Eucharist. Accompanied throughout the entire route by priest chaplains, the pilgrims will travel 10-15 miles each day, mostly on foot, while taking part in a minor Eucharistic procession. 

The pilgrim application process was opened last October and the names of the pilgrims were announced on Monday.

Meet some of the young pilgrims who will be bringing Christ through your neighborhood this summer, beginning Pentecost weekend, May 17-19. 

The Seton Route

The Seton Route, which begins in Connecticut and is named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, will pass through a number of the country’s largest cities as well as the nation’s oldest diocese, Baltimore. 

Amayrani Higueldo Sanchez, a recent nursing school graduate from Philadelphia, found herself with a few unstructured months after her graduation, and at the same time, during her busy nursing school experience, she says she continually felt a tug to spend more time with Jesus in adoration. 

So when the opportunity arose to drop everything and spend months traveling with the Eucharistic Jesus across the country, she said it felt like a providential way to spend more time with Jesus and encourage others to do the same. 

Higueldo, a native of Acapulco, Mexico, who has lived in the Philadelphia area since age 7, said she is especially looking forward to bringing the Eucharist through the major cities in the East. She described a powerful encounter she had with the Eucharist while on a retreat as a teenager and expressed a hope to bring a similar experience to those participating along the route. 

“I remember just the piercing gaze of Our Lord. It just pierced everything in my body and my soul. And I remember just being, feeling like, seen, loved, and just redeemed for the first time in my life,” she recalled. 

“And really, it just changed the whole trajectory of my life, just that gaze of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. And really, I was restored in that moment, and I sought the sacrament of reconciliation right after. And I haven’t been the same since. I used to be so shy, so I didn’t talk to anyone. I was deep in sin. And now I’m like, you’re talking to people and going on this Eucharistic pilgrimage, talking to many, many people. And really, it just really changed my life.”

Higueldo, who has worked in youth ministry at her home parish for the past seven years, said she is looking forward to witnessing to her faith in the Eucharist in small ways, especially when she gets the opportunity to speak with her fellow Spanish speakers along the route and in her hometown.

“I know the Lord wants to pour out a lot of graces on this pilgrimage to so many. So being able to bring that … here at home in Philly to a lot of the parishes that I know, it’s going to be amazing to witness and be able to witness — a front-row seat to the graces that the Lord wants to pour out,” Higueldo said. 

The Marian Route

Matthew Heidenreich, a native Ohioan attending college in Alabama, will be walking the northern Marian Route, which begins at the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota. 

Heidenreich told CNA that his personal relationship with Christ began at a Eucharistic pilgrimage while attending adoration at a Catholic summer camp. It was there during an adoration hour out in nature that he first came to a “place of surrender” to Christ. 

He said he is looking forward to helping give “someone else permission to let the Lord do the same thing in their heart, opening up their heart to receive what the Lord wants to give so freely.”

He also said he is excited to allow his words and actions to bear witness to his love for the Eucharist, with the opportunity to show thousands of people along the way what importance the Eucharist has. 

“I think just seeing a group of six to eight young people who have given everything for a summer to follow Christ speaks deeply,” Heidenreich said.

“If someone is willing to follow something, to leave the things behind that you could have done, leave behind the security and to follow someone or something, that says something powerful.”

Kai Weiss, a 27-year-old native of Germany now doing graduate studies in Washington, D.C., said the idea of becoming a perpetual pilgrim “seemed ideal from the beginning.” He told CNA that the experience would combine his love for the Eucharist with his love of hiking and travel. 

“I’m really looking forward to what kind of surprises Jesus himself has in store,” the Marian Route pilgrim said. 

Coming from a region in Germany known for its Eucharistic processions, Weiss said it brings him joy to see the concept take more of a hold in the U.S., “where I think it is much more needed.” 

He said he also loves the idea of people across the nation coming together — during a contentious election year marked by division — to profess a shared love for Jesus, present in the Eucharist, as a “unifying moment that can bring healing to the country.”

“Jesus in the sacrament — he awaits all of us, regardless of which party we vote for, where we come from,” he noted. 

The Junipero Serra Route

The longest of the four routes, the route named for St. Junipero Serra, will begin with a dramatic procession across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and will see the pilgrims traverse the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. (Specially designed vans will transport the Eucharist and the pilgrims over certain portions of all four routes.)

Jaella Mac Au, a Georgia native and undergraduate student, will be walking this route. Mac Au said she had planned to look for Catholic missionary work following her graduation, but when the opportunity arose to go on this pilgrimage and God seemed to be calling her there, she accelerated her plans. Ultimately, she said, embarking on this two-month journey meant delaying an important internship. 

Despite the sacrifice involved, Mac Au said that throughout the discernment process of becoming a pilgrim, she has come to find “security in the insecurity” — not knowing exactly what her future holds but trusting that God has it in control. 

Mac Au requested prayers for herself and her fellow pilgrims that they would rely on God’s love and grace throughout the challenging pilgrimage experience and not merely on their own abilities. She said she views the pilgrimage as a transformative experience that aligns with her desire to serve in a missionary capacity. 

“It’s about the journey, not the destination, which sounds so silly, but I think if we just condense it, that’s really what it’s all about,” she said. 

“Through Jesus in the Eucharist, it’s such just a tangible reminder that the Lord desires to love us in a very humane, humanlike way … he actually desires to continue to seek out humanity and meet them exactly where they’re at,” she said. 

The Juan Diego Route:

Charlie McCullough, 22, will be walking the southern Juan Diego Route, beginning in Brownsville, Texas, just a few minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border. 

A college senior about to finish his final semester at Texas A&M University, McCullough told CNA that he had a personal encounter with Christ after receiving the Eucharist at a Wednesday evening Mass his freshman year. 

“I very vividly remember the spot in the church where I kneeled and prayed, and something was entirely different from that moment forward,” he explained. “I realized in that moment that there was a place inside of me that the Lord rested and was his home. That was deeper than anything else that I’ve ever experienced in the world.”

“From that moment, I kept coming back to daily Mass, and I kept coming back to the adoration chapel. And just from there, it began, this relationship of deep love with Jesus Christ, all because I realized that he was already living in me, and I was just starting to get to know him because of the gift of the Eucharist.”

McCullough said he is open to God radically altering the course of his life during the pilgrimage. Although he is getting ready to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime, cross-country journey, he said that he is most looking forward to being able to help people encounter those small, “seemingly insignificant” interactions with Christ in the Eucharist that “radically change everything.”

“My hope for the pilgrimage is that every person that we encounter has something stir inside of them that makes them question: ‘Why do I feel differently when I was encountered by this procession? … What if that is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ?’” he said.  

“I have full confidence that Jesus Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist and if the pilgrimage simply stirs questions in the hearts of those that we encounter, I know that those questions will be answered with the truth.”

Joining McCollough on the Juan Diego Route is Shayla Elm, a North Dakotan who works for Christ in the City, a Catholic ministry to the homeless in Denver. 

Elm said despite being a lifelong Catholic, she has benefited greatly already in recent months from the Catholic formation that the pilgrims have been provided to prepare them for the pilgrimage. The pilgrims have been given weekly Zoom formation sessions and went on retreat together in February. 

“We’re all coming from different places, all have different gifts, and I just think it’s really exciting to get to walk with other young adults who are on fire for the Lord,” she said. 

Elm emphasized the central role of the Eucharist in her faith journey, highlighting how it has always been a core aspect of her life and how she believes her vocation is deeply tied to the Eucharist.

“I’ve just known for a while that wherever my life will go, whatever my path is, vocationally, wherever I’m going, the Eucharist will be at the center, period,” she explained.


Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.

Peter Pinedo is a DC Correspondent for CNA. A graduate of Franciscan University, Peter previously worked for Texas Right to Life. He is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve.


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