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Article: National Eucharistic Pilgrimage arrives in diocese

This article appeared in The Catholic Times on June 25, 2024

The National Eucharist Pilgrimage made its first stop during a weeklong trek through the Diocese of Columbus on Monday at historic Somerset St. Joseph Church. 

Father Roger Landry, the priest chaplain on the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route of the pilgrimage traveling from Connecticut to Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress next month, handed off the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament to Bishop Earl Fernandes at the entrance of the church to begin the evening.

Somerset, located in Perry County in the eastern part of the diocese, is where the first Mass in Ohio was celebrated more than 200 years ago by Bishop Edward Fenwick. The parish, the oldest in the state, is known as the “Cradle of Catholicism in Ohio.” 

The Blessed Sacrament was taken inside the church for Eucharistic Adoration before Bishop Fernandes celebrated Mass with Father Landry and two dozen priests and seminarians. Altar servers included students at Somerset Holy Trinity and Lancaster Fisher Catholic, Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans and Sheridan high schools.

An overflow congregation of more than 400 from east-central and central Ohio squeezed inside the Gothic Revival-style church on the warm summer evening. Among them were the football and cheerleading squads from Bishop Rosecrans and religious sisters.

The parish has been under the care of the Order of Preachers (Dominican Fathers of the Province of St. Joseph) throughout its history. The province’s novitiate was formerly located in Somerset and many of its deceased friars are buried in the cemetery there. 

“More than 200 years ago, Bishop Edward Fenwick planted the first seeds of faith here in Somerset when the first Mass was offered in the state of Ohio,” Bishop Fernandes said in his homily. “For the people then, they could exclaim, ‘Jesus is here!’

“More than 200 years later, we too can raise our voices with theirs, saying, ‘Jesus is here!’ He is here, He is living, He is present in the most Blessed Sacrament on the altar.”

After the Mass, Bishop Fernandes carried the Blessed Sacrament outside the church to lead a Eucharistic procession around the grounds at St. Joseph while accompanied by the large contingent of followers who attended the Mass.

“What a blessing for our community to have the first stop of the pilgrimage in the diocese here at St. Joseph,” said Susan Saffell, whose family lives in Somerset and attends Mass at St. Joseph, the church where were parents were married. “It means so much to us.”

Cathy McClary, a parishioner at Junction City St. Patrick Church in Perry County, was one of many from outside the parish who came to Somerset for the Mass and procession. Among those traveling to Somerset were parishioners at Columbus St. Patrick Church, which, like St. Joseph, is staffed by Dominican Friars. 

“I wanted to be a part of the pilgrimage, which is outstanding,” McClary said. “I loved every minute of Adoration, Mass and the procession with the Blessed Sacrament that followed. Seeing so many people here loving Jesus really gives me hope -- tremendous hope.”

Father Don Franks, a retired priest of the diocese whose family has roots in the Somerset area, reflected on the historic nature of the stop at St. Joseph Church.

“Bishop Fernandes was truly anointed tonight as he talked about how, in 1808, the first Mass was celebrated here in Somerset,” Father Franks said. “The faith of those who have deep connections to this church community is still very strong, and it’s alive. It’s filled with the love of Jesus.”

The Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which includes six young adults known as “perpetual pilgrims,” a seminarian and four religious sisters who are traveling nearly 1,000 miles in 65 days, continued through the diocese on Tuesday with a stop at Newark St. Francis de Sales and Blessed Sacrament churches for Adoration, Mass and a Eucharistic procession.

On Wednesday, all-day Adoration is scheduled at Pickerington St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish followed by a 6 p.m. Mass and procession. On Thursday, the Blessed Sacrament will travel to Columbus St. Catharine Church for a Holy Hour from 1 to 2 p.m. followed by Adoration and a Mass in Spanish starting at 7 p.m. at Columbus Christ the King Church.

Friday’s stops include Mass and Adoration at the Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient, a procession and Holy Hour at Mother Angeline McCrory Manor in Columbus for the aged and informed, and an evening Mass with Bishop Fernandes at 6 p.m. at Columbus St. Charles Preparatory School.

On Saturday, Eucharistic Adoration at 9 a.m. and a Mass at 10 a.m. will be followed by a procession and vocations fair at Westerville St. Paul the Apostle Church.

The last stop in the diocese will be Sunday at Columbus St. Joseph Cathedral for a 12:30 p.m. Mass and procession before the pilgrimage moves on to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

“As we begin this pilgrimage in the Diocese of Columbus, He fills us with His grace, He fills us with the Holy Spirit that we might bear witness to Him, to the God who is love, whose love is stronger than death, and whose love comes to us through the Blessed Sacrament,” Bishop Fernandes said.

The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage began on the East Coast in May and has traveled through eight states and the District of Columbia. Its most recent stop before arriving in the Diocese of Columbus was in the Diocese of Steubenville, where one of the Eucharistic events featured the Blessed Sacrament traveling down the Ohio River on a boat.

Three others pilgrimage routes, which form a cross across America with Indianapolis in the center as the final destination for the National Eucharistic Congress on July 17-21 at Lucas Oil Stadium, started in Minnesota (Marian Route), California (St. Junipero Serra Route) and Texas (St. Juan Diego Route).

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and National Eucharistic Congress were initiated by the U.S. Catholic bishops as a means to help revive and restore belief that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.



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