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Father Seraphim Baalbaki and Brother Joseph Pio Young Finish Week on Pilgrimage

Left to right: Brother Joseph Pio Young, CFR, and Father Seraphim Baalbaki, CFR.

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO — On Saturday, June 22, Seton Pilgrims prepared to say thanks and bid farewell to Father Seraphim Baalbaki, CFR, and Brother Joseph Pio Young, CFR, who have accompanied them over the course of the last week.

They are both members of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who have been sending priests and brothers, novices and postulants to the four different routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage for one week at a time. Father Seraphim and Brother Joseph accompanied the Seton Pilgrims on their fifth week.

As they were preparing to depart, the Franciscans spoke about their highlights of their time on the Seton Route and how they've been stengthened to live out their vocations.

"I think for me a big highlight was the 17-mile procession through Beaver County," Father Seraphim said, speaking of the journey on Monday though a rural part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"It was an incredibly hot day, in the high 90s, and a very long walk. It was a beautiful, shared experience of the outpouring of effort and of suffering for and with the Lord. Many came out and several different parishes came together."

Another highlight, he said, was "being with the perpetual pilgrims, seeing their generosity, their zeal, their love for the Lord, and their desire faithfully to accompany him along the roller coaster of locations and emotions of the pilgrimage. Being with them has been a great joy and, and so I am grateful to them."

He had requested to be on this leg of the Seton Route though the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Wheeling-Charleston and Steubenville because he's a native of Mount Lebanon in the Pittsburgh suburbs. He's also a 2005 graduate of a Master's Program at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

He said that helping to bring the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage to his native place was "quite a privilege."

"It was really good to be back in the place where I grew up and spent many of my formative years. It was great to reconnect with people whom I haven't seen in a while, who knew me before and now know me in a different way. There was a lot of grace there. It was beautiful, especially, to give witness to Jesus in places where I lived, where I walked many years ago and to be to be here now in a more intentional way as a witness to the Lord."

He also said it was great to share some of the experience of he week with his family, which still lives in greater Pittsburgh.

"My mom and stepdad came to a few of the events and it was very beautiful. I could tell for both of them it was a time of grace. I think my mom particularly enjoyed the Eucharistic processions she came to, being able to give a public witness to her faith like that. I think was very powerful for her."

Father Seraphim, who pronounced his final vows as a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal in 2017 and was ordained a priest in 2022 said that he was proud of his community for having made a particular commitment to ensuring that the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage happen.

"The Eucharist is very much at the heart of the charism of our community, at the heart of our day, as we come together as brothers every day to pray a Eucharistic Holy Hour. On Fridays and on our prayer days, we spend even more time with the Eucharist. And so from the beginning, our prayer life has been built around Eucharistic love and devotion. And so this is something that is very close to our hearts.

"When we realized that the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage was even a possibility, some of our brothers were very zealous that we would be a part of it and help in whatever way we could. And it's so it's a particular joy for us as CFRs to accompany the Lord in this way."

Asked about how he anticipates this week might strengthen his vocation as a CFR, he said, "This week has given me kind of a renewed zeal to press in even a bit more when I return to the Bronx." He said the example of the perpetual pilgrims "has certainly called me on to renew my own generosity and zeal for the Eucharistic Lord and generally in all aspects of my vocation and I can definitely see carrying these graces with me when I return to New York."

Brother Joseph Pio said that he'll never forget the grace of "being one of the ones chosen to be with Jesus as he's traveling from town to town. I'm reminded of the disciples with whom Jesus would travel from town to town preaching and healing and touching people's lives. That's what he's doing on this Pilgrimage as well. In the Gospel, Jesus called certain people to remain with him through all his travel and to remain by his side, and that certainly has been the experience for me as a pilgrim for this week. It's been an invitation, like the disciples, to be one who remains with Jesus by His side as he touches people's hearts and transforms lives."

He himself had requested to be on the fifth week of the Seton Route because Steubenville is his home town. He said it was a "really beautiful" experience to be able to accompany the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage to the place where he grew up, to Franciscan University from which he graduated in 2020 and to his home parish of St. Peter, where there was a holy hour on June 20.

"As we were driving through Steubenville," he commented, "I kept noticing people I knew and passing them again and again and again. It dawned on me how much of a desire Jesus has to be with them. It was also beautiful that the route of the Eucharistic Procession was through the downtown area, where some of my buddies and I used to go to encounter the homeless. We saw some of those we used to reach out to during the Eucharistic procession."

He added that it was very moving to see his home parish "bursting to oveflowing. I thought of the verse in St. Mark's Gospel about Peter's house in Capernaum, which was packed to overflowing and there was not space even around the door when Jesus was there."

Brother Joseph, who made his first vows on August 6, 2022, walked many parts of the pilgrimage in barefeet, something that Pittsburgh auxiliary Bishop William Waltersheid noted in his thank you comments on the last night of the Pilgrimage's days in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

It's not something he normally does, but, he said, "I felt moved to do it for Jesus. I wanted to do it for him as an active, devoted love. I normally don't go barefoot in the streets, but I felt inspired to start doing it. It's part of our Franciscan tradition to go barefoot on pilgrimage. I also think of the acts of piety like the people in Mexico who walk for miles on their knees to Guadalupe or go barefoot in Medjugorje. Going barefoot this week, I think, helped me keep my heart on Jesus, because it was difficult at times."

During the week, he also helped out a lot with the music during the processions singing alongside pilgrim Zoe Dongas.

About public singing, he said, "I was pretty insecure initially, and still am to a degree, because I really have never been in a position of leading praise music for a group of people. I do lead hymns sometimes among the friars in the friary and summer camp type songs for young people. But singing on procession was new for me. It, too, I think, helped keep my heart on the Lord throughout the pilgrimage, because throughout it, I was often tempted to get caught in what everybody else thought of me. And the experience of that was having to fight against that kept my heart on him."

He said that this week on Pilgrimage has "deepened my desire to be a pilgrim at heart, to be one who is itinerant, who travels from place to place, not alone but It with the Lord. It has also inspired me to be a man who prays unceasingly as he moves, because this pilgrimage has been full of prayer and adoration. My heart has really become alive in that. Regardless of whether I'm on an actual pilgrimage or not, that is really my vocation."

Later today both of them will return to their assignment in the Bronx and they will be replaced on pilgrimage by Father Justin Alarcón, CFR, and Brother Lazarus Vina, CFR.


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