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Article: National Eucharistic Pilgrimage makes stops in Chester County

Faith unites Catholics across the Greater Philadelphia region at St. Agnes Church

Jen Samuel

For MediaNews Group (Link to Original Article)

PUBLISHED: June 4, 2024 at 3:00 p.m. | UPDATED: June 4, 2024 at 7:31 p.m.

WEST CHESTER — The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage sparked hope and heavenly acclaim as Catholics from across the region united in Chester County at St. Agnes Church.

“It’s a public witness to people in the borough,” said Michelle Cherry, a borough resident of West Chester and member of the St. Agnes Parish. “God is still present among us. We should really turn back to him and follow his word and the moral compass he provides.”

More than 1,000 people attended a daytime prayer with Eucharistic Benediction June 3 at St. Agnes, which is the Mother Church in Chester County for Catholics. The service began with the arrival of the Eucharist into the church. The Eucharist is traveling along the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route en route to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis on July 16. The pilgrimage began on May 17 in Connecticut.

Monday’s event at St. Agnes marked the final stop of the pilgrimage in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This pilgrimage moves westward.

Concurrently, there are three other pilgrimages taking place nationally; and all will converge together in Indiana next month.

Monday, people traveled as far as New Jersey to attend the Eucharistic Benediction at St. Agnes.

Among those processing along the Seton Route is Amayrani Higueldo, one of the two young women from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who are participating in the Pilgrimage as perpetual pilgrims. This small, dedicated group of young adults is traveling full-time from May until July 2024, accompanying Jesus as he draws near to countless communities across the nation on his way to the 10th National Eucharistic Congress. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s second perpetual pilgrim, Sarah Cahill, will be processing along the Marian Route.

Higueldo is a member of St. Patrick Church in Norristown — and the Montgomery County parish was well-represented Monday with friends, family and fellow parishioners who made the trip to Chester County to inspire Higueldo. The Rev. Thomas Viviano, a resident priest at St. Patrick’s, said he wouldn’t be anywhere else Monday.

“One of the perpetual pilgrims that’s making this trip for two months all the way to Indianapolis is from our parish: Amayrani Higueldo,” Viviano said. “So of course we want to participate in the event, but also to support her.”

And the guiding force, he said, is faith.

“Faith is giving my whole life to our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting that he is the way, the truth and the life. And following him to heaven,” Viviano said.

Higueldo is originally from Acapulco, Guerrero Mexico, and now lives in Norristown. A first-generation college graduate, she recently earned a nursing degree from Montgomery County Community College. Higueldo loves to hike and loves watching sports, according to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which added that she chose to be a Perpetual Pilgrim because she knows first-hand the power of encountering Christ in the Eucharist and wants to share the joy and healing that comes with a Eucharist encounter with as many people as possible.

Higueldo is sharing the experience on social media. She shared in reflection via a Facebook video posted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia “I’m very humbled and very honored,” she said. “I ask for your prayers.”

Toni Schanp is from Trooper in Montgomery County. She traveled with friends Anita Pietrzykowski and Lucy Landingin. The women all attend different parishes in the Norristown region including St Francis of Assisi Church, Visitation BVM Parish, and Holy Saviour Roman Catholic Church.

JoAnn Friel is from Branchville, New Jersey, near Newtown.

“We wanted to be part of this,” Friel said as the church bells rang at noon. “They are coming from all four corners of the United States,” she said of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.  “I came with my dear friends Rita and Patrice.”

They drove three hours to West Chester on Monday. The friends are members of Our Lady of Queen Peace in Frankford Township, New Jersey.

“It’s just so wonderful to see the strength of the Eucharist and the blessings that it brings,” Friel said. “And to see families, seniors, little children, newborns — we hear so many times that our faith is not alive, from the media, but it is. And it’s strong. People from all over, all over, are being witness to this. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful moment.”

She said her faith inspires her. “It’s all goodness. God is good. And that’s what you see here. It’s all goodness,” Friel said.

“Faith to me is having hope of things we don’t see in the physical, but we may,” said Camille McQuillan of Glen Mills. “We do believe in the Eucharist — that’s the way we’ve been trained — and I think we’ve all experienced that deep, deep love for Our Savior in the Eucharist. He’s changed us through the Eucharist. It’s the change in the person who establishes the faith as a deep connection with Our Lord.”

She is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Glen Mills. “Coming today helps us to celebrate that he is truly alive and, I’m going to say, a force to be reckoned with,” she stated.

Gerry Seymour said faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the staircase in front of you. “It’s hope and belief in God and a better world,” Seymour stated.

Dee Delaney traveled with McQuillan and Seymour to West Chester. The women are part of a Eucharistic Disciple Ministry at the St. Thomas parish.

“This pilgrimage is expanding my heart,” Delaney said. “It’s making it beat faster. I have been following the progress of the Eucharistic Pilgrimage and also the whole movement that’s been happening. Jesus is here. I know it as I stand here, because of my faith. He’s gazing upon us as we’re gazing upon him. It gives me chills.”

For those who may have been away from church recently or for many years, Delaney encouraged people to reach the Gospels and to read about the Saints. “Something will work within you, will work within your heart, to make you want to experience what the holy people that you’re reading about experienced. And you will. You will. It’s a different age. It’s a different time. But you will experience a beautiful awakening.”

“This is a great witness for everything going on in the world. I think there is a lack of faith and presence of God,” said Amy Hunt of Phoenixville. “It would be a more peaceful place if people embraced God in their lives and acknowledged that. We’re not God. He is.”

Mother-of-five Katie Kinuthia traveled with her three young children to St. Agnes from her home in Phoenixville. Her older children were in school.

“Faith is everything,” Kinuthia said.  “It’s our joy. It’s the center of our family.”

“I want to be part of acknowledging that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist and hope that this will encourage people to join us,” Schanp said.

Faith is the focus of her life, she said, “the center of my life — it always has been.”

Schanp said many people have taken the wrong path and followed advice from things they are learning or experiencing in the world — but they’re not finding happiness.

“They need to open up and try to go back to their faith,” Schanp said. “And trust in God. Spend time with Jesus.”

Bob Meenen, of Concord Township in Delaware County, attended the special event on Monday afternoon alongside his wife, Marge.

“It was beautiful, just beautiful,” she said.

Her husband concurred.

“God is the answer. Jesus is the answer,” Meenen said. “It’s been the answer for us our whole lives. We all go through pain and suffering — the world is a difficult place. Jesus is always the answer.”

The Rev. Randy Kraft just finished his first year as a priest; he was ordained last May and assigned to St. Agnes. Prior to ordination, Kraft served as a deacon at St. Patrick’s Church in Norristown. He and Higueldo worked together with youth ministry programs in the parish.

“It’s beautiful to be in a place that so many faithful Catholics built so many hundreds of years ago,” said Kraft, who was born in Huntingdon Valley, Montgomery County. “That faith has continued to live on today. And even though I’m new, I’m a part of that community that stretches all the way back. I’m just trying to do my best to serve the people that are here.”

He continued, “It’s beautiful to be in a place that so many faithful Catholics built so many hundreds of years ago. That faith has continued to live on today. And even though I’m new, I’m a part of that community that stretches all the way back. I’m just trying to do my best to serve the people that are here.”

Of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, Kraft said this is a new initiative with different processions beginning at multiple starting points and all ending in Indianapolis. “All the pilgrims from different parts of the country are going to meet up there for prayer,” he said.

“It’s a wonderful way to put our faith on display,” he said. “And to witness that faith to the people in the neighborhood and especially the people of our parish … We just want to provide that spark of faith. What inspires me is seeing the faith of my people here. I’ve realized as a priest is that there are so many people who are holier than me who are here — who are just living their life in holiness day in and day out. My job is just to serve them and help them grow in holiness.”

On Monday, prior to the prayer service and benediction at St. Agnes, which closed the National Pilgrimage’s time in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a procession and mass took place at Saints Simon and Jude Church in Westtown Township.

The Reverend Louis Bellopede is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish.

“The Eucharist is the body, blood and soul and divinity of Jesus Christ present in the consecrated host. And that consecrated host will go into a vessel called a monstrance”

Bellopede said. “That monstrance is carried throughout this archdiocese all centered upon what is called an Eucharistic Revival.”

Bellopede continued: “In other words, to let people rekindle their love, their understanding, and their knowledge of the Eucharist. And so why are we doing all this? For a rekindling. Re-energizing ourselves. To understand what we truly believe as the source and summit of everything we do. It’s Christ.”

After the prayer and benediction ended, the Eucharist left St. Agnes and its caravan departed West Chester en route to Harrisburg.

“Jesus loves everyone,” said the Most Reverend Efren V. Esmilla while greeting parishioners outside St. Agnes. Esmilla is a Filipino-born priest of the Catholic Church and serves as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Jesus is here,” Esmilla said. “Jesus loves you.”

Amayrani Higueldo, sanding in the blue shirt, is a member of St. Patrick Church in Norristown. (Photo provided by St. Patrick Church)


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