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Pilgrims Say Thanks and Bid Adieu to Br. Lazarus Vina, CFR, and Fr. Joseph Michael Fino, CFR

CINCINNATI, July 6 — The Seton Route Pilgrims, as they are accustomed to do every Saturday, fêted the two departing Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and prepared to receive others.


With an “Ode to Our Brothers,” composed by pilgrim Zoe Dongas and sung by all, as well as by verbal thanks and tributes, they thanked and bid adieu to Brother Lazarus Vina, CFR, who has been with them for two weeks, as well as Father Joseph Michael Fino, CFR, who has been with them since June 29.


Brother Lazarus, who is preparing to profess his final vows on August 4, said that among the highlights of his fortnight on the Seton Route were “when we were in the Diocese of Columbus. We had a number of really exemplary, solemn liturgies celebrated by Bishop Fernandes, with the best choirs, the most beautiful vestments, with scores of servers, with seminarians, all showing the kind of honor due to the King of Kings. That liturgical aspect of the Eucharistic Revival has always been very close to my heart. I was extremely grateful blessed to see that experience that."


He said he also very much appreciated his time with the other pilgrims. “I was extremely drawn to the small group of pilgrims throughout the journey, as an older brother accompanying them and being with them. It was a great joy to get to know each one of them and their individual gifts and talents and personalities and to feel invited into the mission by them.”


Joining the pilgrimage after two years in Honduras, he said that he was struck by the piety of those in Ohio.


“Before I left for Honduras, I lived in New York, where there are pockets of faith, but in a hostile anti-Catholic environment. So it's been a great joy for me traveling through Ohio and the Midwest, where there are huge communities of faithful Catholics full of love and devotion to the Lord and especially large faithful families. I sat at a number of the potlucks with families of eight to nine children and got to know all their little children being raised in the faith with great love and devotion to our Lord. That was very encouraging to me and beautiful to see.”


Brother Lazarus is a musician who not only sang during the liturgies but along the route with fellow pilgrims Zoe Dongas and Natalie Garza.


“Leading music while walking on pilgrimage was a new experience for me,” he stated. “It's extremely challenging, because you're trying to breathe as you're walking fast, singing and having one eye on the lyrics and the other eye dodging obstacles on the route. It was a real adventure doing that together with Zoe and, overall, a great joy. I loved leading the music.”


He said that his participation on the pilgrimage was an excellent preparation for his final vows and upcoming studies for the priesthood.


“Before coming on this pilgrimage, the Lord had spoken very clearly to me about a personal mission of Eucharistic revival. There's nothing I want to do more than spend the rest of my life as a consecrated person and priest proclaiming the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And so, in a sense, my heart was already burning for this mission. Then to be on the pilgrimage these two weeks has poured gasoline on the fire, giving me a clarity and a precision of vision of how the Lord desires me to give myself for this mission of Eucharistic revival and the salvation of souls.”


He had given a meditation to pilgrims on St. Francis of Assisi and the Eucharist and said that his own Franciscan identity is tied to St. Francis’ Eucharistic love and life.


“For me, St. Francis is the great Eucharistic saint. He wrote more on the Eucharist than on poverty or anything else. Reading his writings, the Eucharist stands at the very center of his mission and his person. I'm particularly drawn to his desire to respond to the totality of Jesus' gift to us in the Eucharist. He says, ‘Brothers, look at the humility of God. Look at him who has given everything to you. May he receive you totally.’ And so that's the desire of my heart.”


Father Joseph Michael said that among the top moments of his week on pilgrimage “has been seeing all of the families come out. We've been in many churches in Columbus and Cincinnati and they've just been packed with families. It’s been beautiful to see the children and the parents walking with us in these processions and adoring the Lord and the streets.”


The overarching impression of the pilgrimage for him has been “the presence of God in this world. God is super present. I not only experienced that presence in the Mass but in the processions and in the body of believers processing with the body of Christ and forming the body of Christ at the same time, communicating God's real presence in this world with the Eucharist.”


He said he was moved to accompany the pilgrims.


“I am very impressed with the pilgrims. They don't have an easy job! They have a tight community and often need to dwell together in small quarters, oftentimes in totally new places every day. And they're just on it, joyful and really pouring themselves out lavishly for God who poured himself out for us. I've been very inspired by them.”


He said these days have inspired him as a priest and a religious.


“I've been a priest for three years. There have been a few key moments in my priesthood in which the faith of the people has really supported me and inspired me. That was what was really coming to me on these days. Seeing men and women, baptized in this world, reverencing our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and going out of these churches and preparing to receive Him into their churches. That has been a great inspiration to me as a priest.”


A native of Westerville, Ohio, he was grateful to God to be able to bring the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage home.


“That was cool. I came to faith in the Eucharist when I was in college, so the Eucharist wasn't really a part of my life when I grew up in Westerville. So it was wonderful to connect those dots and promote devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in the place where I grew up.”


He shared how it was particularly special to participate in his CFR community’s support of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, knowing that without its involvement, the Pilgrimage would never have been able to happen.


“There's a unified effort amongst the friars to really support this Pilgrimage and make it happen. The driving force behind that was our General Superior, Father John Anthony [Boughton]. I’m just proud of the brothers and really grateful. From what I've heard from the pilgrims, they've told me detailed information about all the friars who have preceded me. There's an abiding kind of continuity in the presence of the friars on this journey that pilgrims find relatable and supportive. I'm just grateful to be numbered among them.”


Asked about his final impression as a poet who has shared his poetry with the pilgrims along the way, he said, “That Jesus Christ is alive! And he's present in this world through his church. And we are in bringing his church back to the streets, reclaiming creation for God.”


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