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Article: Priest prepares for ‘crazy’ 1,500-mile Eucharistic pilgrimage

This article originally appeared in Catholic News Agency on March 30, 2024.

By Jonah McKeown

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2024 / 06:00 am

Father Roger Landry has worn a lot of hats during his 25-year priesthood, figuratively speaking. But this summer he says he’ll be trading them all in for one — a sun hat to protect his fair skin as he walks 1,500 miles across the eastern U.S.

The trek is no mere physical challenge — though it certainly will be that. Landry is currently the only priest committed to walking the entirety of one of the four routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, an unprecedented effort to coordinate four simultaneous Eucharistic pilgrimages starting at the edges of the country and converging, thousands of miles later, in Indianapolis.

The pilgrimages are part of the multiyear Eucharistic Revival, kicked off by the U.S. Catholic bishops and dedicated to celebrating and spreading devotion to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. As announced earlier this month, a group of 24 young “Perpetual Pilgrims” have committed to walking the entirety of each of the four routes, 10-15 miles each day, accompanied by a rotating cadre of priests from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The pilgrimages begin Pentecost weekend, May 17–19.

Landry, who presently serves as chaplain at Columbia University in New York City, said the upcoming two-month experience will be a perfect way for him to celebrate his 25th anniversary as a priest, which he will mark in June. He will traverse the Seton Route, which begins in Connecticut and is named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Coming off of a seven-year stint working with the Holy See at the United Nations and now ministering to college students, Landry said the timing of the pilgrimages is providential: Columbia’s commencement ceremony, marking the start of summer break, is just a few days days before the launch of the pilgrimages.

“To be really the only priest who’s going to be able to accompany the Eucharistic Pilgrimage from beginning to end is just an extraordinary gift of the Lord and source of gratitude for me,” Landry told CNA.

This will be, Landry said, “the biggest Eucharistic Pilgrimage in the history of the Church.” The Camino de Santiago, one of the most famous Catholic pilgrimage routes in the world, spans nearly 500 miles; the Seton Route will be triple that. (And it’s not even the longest of this year’s Eucharistic Pilgrimages; that honor goes to the western Serra Route at more than 2,000 miles.)

A crazy undertaking? Perhaps. But Landry said part of the reason he is excited to join the pilgrimage is that he hopes to explain that “what we’re doing is actually a sane conclusion to what our faith outrageously professes.”

“The same Jesus Christ was in Mary’s womb, who walked the dusty streets of Jericho and the marble-lined streets of Jerusalem, who died on the cross and rose from the dead, is still very much with us, as he promised to the end of time, and wants to walk with us each step of our earthly life,” Landry explained.

Landry’s unwavering faith in the Eucharist as the real presence of Jesus drives his commitment to this pilgrimage, viewing it as a powerful expression of love and devotion to Christ, who “walked with people” during his earthly life.

“We [as pilgrims] hope to be able to draw a lot of attention to this dynamic aspect of our Catholic, Eucharistic faith,” he said.

‘Something as crazy as this’

A priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, Landry is well known as a preacher, retreat leader, and as a guide for pilgrims visiting Catholic sites around the world.

Two years ago, Landry’s bishop commissioned him to be one of the 60 Eucharistic preachers — priests committed to making themselves available to preach on the Eucharist during the time of Eucharistic revival.

Landry said that at the time, he suggested to Bishop Andrew Cozzens — who is spearheading the Eucharistic Revival initiative — the idea of a blockbuster cross-country Eucharistic pilgrimage, starting in California and ending in New York City. At the time, the idea struck many people as ambitious and impractical. But as the idea gained momentum among the organizers of the Eucharistic Revival, Landry began to see his big idea take shape.

Thanks in large part to the organizational efforts of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, the pilgrimage was at last announced in May 2023.

“The Holy Spirit was working in many different people at the same time to try to bring about something as crazy as this,” Landry said.

“The fact that the Lord had already implanted in many of us, myself included, the desire to ask for something like this and a willingness to participate — that was God’s preparatory work, which to me communicates that he actually wants this Eucharistic Pilgrimage.”

‘Jesus is the hero’

All events related to the pilgrimages will be free and open to the public. Catholics and anyone throughout the U.S. are encouraged to register to join the pilgrims in walking short sections of the pilgrimages and also can join numerous other special events put on by their local dioceses.

The Seton Route, as its name implies, will take the pilgrims to numerous places associated with the saint, including her tomb in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Landry expressed his excitement about visiting various shrines along the route, such as the one dedicated to Seton as well as the shrine dedicated to St. John Neumann, a champion of the Eucharist.

The Perpetual Pilgrims, who will walk the entirety of the four routes, are all between the ages of 19 and 29. Landry — a former collegiate athlete, to be sure, but now in his 50s — is under no illusions that the pilgrimage will be an easy trek physically.

He said he has no doubts the experience will be enjoyable — but at the same time, it will be “a mortification.”

“I recognize that that journey in following the Lord sometimes is easy and downhill. Many times it’s a challenge, and it’s uphill. That’s what the ‘narrow way’ is. And so psychologically, I’m very prepared for some of the sufferings that my aging body is going to be confronted with along the way,” he said.

He said despite any hardships, he anticipates he and the pilgrims he will minister to will “form friendships that will last the rest of our life” as he attempts to form them deeper in their faith as a “family.”

“I know that the Lord, who is full of surprises, is really going to fill this whole journey with surprises. So even though I’m anticipating with great eagerness those joys along the journey, I think he’s going to blow me out of the water in terms of what he’s got planned,” Landry said.

“He promised that if we leave things behind and follow him, he will bless us one hundredfold in this life, and with eternal life. And I anticipate that the fellow Perpetual Pilgrims and I are going to have a little bit of a taste of the Lord’s one hundredfold generosity.”

On June 26, in the midst of the pilgrimage and likely somewhere in Ohio, Landry will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination. He said guiding people toward Christ on their journey toward heaven has always been a central aspect of his priesthood and will remain so throughout the pilgrimage experience.

“Jesus is the hero of this pilgrimage … I’m kind of going to be like the donkey that brought him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday,” Landry said, laughing.

“Some other people have used other words that refer to ‘donkey’ to refer to me over the course of my lifetime. And finally it will fit that I will be like that ass, being able to bring the Messiah into the cities… And what an image of the priesthood that is, of just being a ‘Christ bearer,’ as I have the privilege to be able to journey with him.”

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.


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