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Pilgrims Thank Fr. Steven Rooney and Br. Jan Vanek, CFR for Their Accompaniment

BRONX, NY, May 25, 2024 — On the beginning of their second week of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, pilgrims thanked Father Steven Rooney and Brother Jan Cyril Vanek, CFR, for accompanying them for the first week.

Father Stephen Rooney, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre and parochial vicar at Notre Dame Parish in New Hyde Park, New York, was with pilgrims since Sunday in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

He was asked three weeks ago to take the place of a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal who had been scheduled but could not attend, and Father Rooney was delighted to join in between his duties on the Lord's day.

He described what the highlights of his five days with us were.

He compared it a little to the experience of the Prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb.

"The Lord wasn't in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. But yesterday as we walked with the Lord, he was in the rain. During the downpour, we were shouting out the Rosary. The storm was really beautiful.

"Or walking through the Bronx, as people knelt down some prostrated in front of our Lord, or the ice cream seller who started ringing her bells as we processed by, or as we went through the cemetery in Norwalk proclaiming let these dry bones rise.

"It also special being a father to the pilgrims. Witnessing their love for Jesus was probably the greatest gift of all."

He spoke about how he thinks the experience will impact his priestly life as he approaches his second anniversary on June 18.

"The pilgrimage has reminded me that the priesthood was founded and centralized in the Eucharist. To keep returning to him in the Eucharist is where my spiritual life and priestly ministry needs to be grounded and set on fire. It's only in Jesus in the Eucharist."

It also reinforced the nature of the Christian life as a pilgrimage.

"We are pilgrims journeying to the Lord and with the Lord. The image that has come to mind lately is like allowing Mary to hold my hand and not trying to pull her to go faster. To remain with her to hold Mary in the hand and walk at the pace she desires."

Br. Jan, of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, assigned to St. Crispin Convent in Harlem, was present from May 17, the day in which pilgrims convened in New Haven before the Mass that launched the pilgrimage.

In addition to the joy that pilgrims said he radiated and brought to all of his interactions, he helped lead the music during pilgrimages, both playing the guitar and singing Eucharistic hymns and praise and worship music in both English and Spanish.

He described the highlights of his seven days in these words.

"Among the highlights for me were really see God working in a lot of people who came to join us, the devotion of many people who met us in the various churches, the bishops whom we met, and in seeing our team working, just everyone trying their best."

"The whole experience was just amazing because it was much bigger than I thought it would be."

He said that the experience will impact his vocation as a Franciscan Friar.

"It was great this week to see the whole church working together. As a CFR, we work with the poor. Every day we live from Eucharist. We have Mass and Holy Hours every day. That's what gives us strength. It's been great to see other people receive that, too. It has stoked my desire just to be with Jesus, to come to him and to just to be more present to him."

When asked about whether he had ever played the guitar and sung for so many hours each day, he replied, "I have done pilgrimages when I sang more cumulatively over the course of the journey, but not all continuously like we did here, singing non-stop for 15 miles. That was wild. It was good. I gave my all, I believe. It was great to hear people singing and praising the Lord."

The two pilgrims departed on Saturday morning for the priestly ordinations at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, in which friends of Fr. Rooney and a community member from the CFRs are being ordained.

Today Fr. Pierre Toussaint, CFR, and three postulants from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are arriving to take their spots.


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