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Halftime Report from Pilgrim Zoe Dongas: Learning about reliance on the Lord and hospitality

MOUNT LEBANON, PENNSYLVANIA, June 15 — The Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is about to reach the midway point of its 65-day journey from New Haven, Connecticut to Indianapolis, Indiana for the July 17-21 National Eucharistic Congress.

During a half-day on the road, the blog interviewed Zoe Dongas about her thoughts on the pilgrimage until now.


As we are about to reach the midway point of our pilgrimage, what have been the highlights until now?

Oh, goodness, there have been so many. I think a major highlight for me has been receiving so much wonderful hospitality from both our hosts in the different dioceses and the priests. Everyone has been so good to us. I'm overwhelmed by how kind people have been to us. It's such a gift.

I got to meet, for example, a woman, Jeannette, I believe it was in the Diocese of Trenton. She was a mom, whose kids had already moved out and no longer live with her. So she was basically alone in her house. And she brought all of us women into her home, and was such a mom to us. One night, we got home really late, about 10 pm. But she told us that that night, or before we left the following morning, she would make us Indian food. We said, "That would be amazing." And then she stayed up past10 just to cook us food. It was so delicious. She sat and she ate with us, talked with us and just received us with such generosity. It was so beautiful.

You've had a lot of time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament over the course of this pilgrimage. How have you been handling the need for spiritual stamina?

I think it's really been an opportunity to rely on the Lord, because it has been a lot of with Jesus in prayer! For me, it's a lot of like, "Okay, I don't know what to do, but in his time slot, I just give it to you, Lord, because I don't have very much stamina physically or spiritually at this moment." Reliance on the Lord has been foundational.

You have been the backbone of this pilgrimage in terms of music during our processions. When you were growing up, thinking about being an actor and a singer, did you ever foresee that, for 65 days, you would be putting on a praise and worship concert on the streets with the most important person in history in the audience?

No, it didn't really cross my mind! Strangely enough, it is such a dream come true to praise God while we're walking across the country with Jesus right in front of me. I couldn't even make it up!

Have you had to do anything to keep your voice fresh?

Honestly, I haven't. I know all the things I should do, like warming up or cooling down, but I think that the Holy Spirit is working through my weak flesh, because there shouldn't be any way that I'm still able to sing. But I've been able to do it almost the whole time. It's really awesome that we have the Franciscan friars and other teammates who have been willing to step in and switch out and sing with me. That makes it extra special, when you get to make music with someone else.

How have you grown over the course of the first half of this pilgrimage?

I've learned a lot about hospitality as well as about how to accept the help of others, especially when I'm struggling, and to ask for it. I know that my team and all the pilgrims have such good hearts and want to serve and want to help. Normally I rely on myself to do everything. I have grown in accepting my team's joyfully wanting to help carry things or when I need something. The Lord is always right there, too, watching and he obviously wants to help. So I continue striving to be open to the gifts that everyone around me willingly wants to give.

Have there been any particular challenges of a practical and physical nature?

I had a blister after the first week when we walked in the rain through Westchester County, New York. Because of my wet shoes, it didn't go well, and I had this big blister on my pinky toe. That was a physical challenge. I had to pop it three times and it kept refilling up. But now that we've had slightly lighter weeks, it's gone, praise God. Now I know what it feels like, so it's no longer as scary to get them.

Along this pilgrimage, you have been a witness to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. After the pilgrimage is done, you'll always be a witness to way Jesus has been received. What will you witness to after these 65 days are done?

I'm hoping that I'll be able to be a witness to the faithfulness of communities that we've been so graced to visit, so many different churches where we've seen how different communities worship, and how different communities come together with Jesus at the center. As I go back to New York City, I really hope that I will be able to witness to how faith communities come together and that that awareness continues to be a part of my everyday life, being open to going into new places and getting to worship with new people.

Have been any surprises along the pilgrimage?

I knew that we were going to be on boats, but I didn't expect so many! We've really been on two really epic boat journeys with Jesus and the experience of being on a boat with him really brought me back to the apostles. I was not expecting that experience to be so surreal, and it happened twice.

What are you looking forward to most in the second half of the pilgrimage?

I'm looking forward to walking through the fields of Ohio. We're going to be in Ohio for a while. I'm excited to be doing some long days again [of processions] and getting to do it hopefully through some beautiful nature as the summer begins.


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