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Dominican Father Peter Martyr Yungwirth carried the monstrance through Central Park in New York City with pilgrims on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s Seton (East) Route on May 25.
Dominican Father Peter Martyr Yungwirth carried the monstrance through Central Park in New York City with pilgrims on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s Seton (East) Route on May 25.
Photo Credit: Gregory A. Shemitz | OSV News

Stories of conversion, ‘amazing’ encounters mark National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s first 10 days

Pilgrims along the routes heading to Indianapolis say the first 10 days have seen iconic events and hidden moments

As a eucharistic procession made its way May 28 through Victoria, Texas, a man sitting on the side of a street caught Charlie McCullough’s attention. McCullough stopped to talk with him, explaining what was going on: The procession was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage en route to Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress, and the Eucharist they were walking behind is really, truly Jesus.

“He had grown up in the Protestant faith and had never seen a eucharistic procession before, and was at a time in life where he was asking a lot of big questions about what is the reason I exist for, what’s the purpose of life, all these things,” McCullough, one of six perpetual pilgrims on the pilgrimage’s southern St. Juan Diego route, recalled May 29. “We talked briefly and I kept walking.”

About five blocks later, McCullough looked over his shoulder and saw the man running after the procession. He caught up to McCullough and asked if they could talk more.

“He told me that that morning was the first time he had tried to pray in years. He opened his Bible, and he didn’t know if the Lord had heard him. And when we walked by — when Jesus Christ walked by — he knew something was different. And he knew that he wanted to follow the Lord, and he had so many questions about how and what he wants to do, and there was this zeal welling up in his heart,” McCullough said. “I just got to pray with him and encourage him.”

“At the end of our conversation, he goes, ‘I know this sounds crazy, but I want to go all the way to Indianapolis,’” he said.

McCullough, a fellow Texan, thinks it’s unlikely the man will follow the pilgrimage to Indianapolis, “but I pray that he follows the Lord the rest of his life,” he said. “He had a very profound experience, and the Lord stirred his heart through a simple encounter there, and it was very beautiful.”

McCullough shared that encounter on a May 29 media call that included pilgrims from all four routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which began May 18-19 in California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas. Ten days into their journeys, the 23 perpetual pilgrims were in the Diocese of Victoria; the Diocese of Boise, Idaho; the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

Their second week included already iconic events — such as when Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York blessed the city with the Eucharist from a boat near the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor May 27 — and hidden moments — like when a man got out of a truck in the middle of Oregon, far away from any towns, and genuflected as the Eucharistic caravan passed.

“It was just a moment driving by, but he had gone out that distance to make sure he knew he would be by Jesus,” said Chas Firestone East, a perpetual pilgrim from Virginia journeying on the western St. Junipero Serra Route.

The pilgrims shared other stories of encounter and conversion: On the California side of Lake Tahoe, a photographer for a secular news outlet — amazed by the masses of people turning out for processions — told the perpetual pilgrims that he was inspired to learn more about the Eucharist and plans to begin the process for becoming Catholic. Meanwhile, a woman who isn’t able to walk with the pilgrims has been joining each procession along the St. Juan Diego Route since Brownsville, Texas, on a retrofitted tricycle. Also in Texas, some perpetual pilgrims helped bandage a woman’s wounded leg at a homeless shelter, and then the woman — whose name is Hope — asked the pilgrims to pray with her.

“It was just a beautiful moment to see Jesus … getting to see Him inside the person that we encounter,” said Shayla Elm, a Juan Diego Route perpetual pilgrim originally from North Dakota.

The pilgrims have been amazed by the number of people who met them for eucharistic processions, Holy Hours and Mass.

“I have been blown away at how hungry people are to show their faith and how thirsty Jesus is for their souls,” Elm said. “Jesus really is thirsty for this whole country. He really wants so many souls to encounter Him, and He’s the one walking in the streets. He’s leading us right now. So, it’s really beautiful to have all of us walking alongside our Lord.”

Meanwhile, the pilgrims have been bringing the Eucharist to places where people cannot join the public events. On May 28, perpetual pilgrims on the northern Marian Route visited a St. Paul, Minnesota, nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. The visit was a day after a 7,000-person procession on a nearby avenue. A deacon with them pointed out that Jesus wanted to come to people, who due to age or infirmity, couldn’t come to Him, and his message stuck with perpetual pilgrim Kai Weiss, a German student who studies in Washington.

“Jesus is really seeking all kinds of different people out on this journey,” he said.

While the perpetual pilgrims expected large turnouts in the cities along their routes, events in small towns have also drawn hundreds. Weiss noted that processions in rural parts of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, likely exceeded the towns’ populations.

“The enthusiasm in those small towns was shocking,” he said. “You just walk through these small towns and church bells are ringing, the first communicants have flowers … people along the route come out of their houses to check what is going on and they’re really moved. Many of them kneel down, but I think a lot of them are like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”

From the Archive Module

Stories of conversion amazing encounters mark National Eucharistic Pilgrimages first 10 days 9679

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