Rocky Mountain high

Archdiocesan seminarians hit the great outdoors on a pilgrimage with Archbishop Naumann


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

It was at the Keyhole, nearly 13,200 feet up Longs Peak in Colorado, when Father Mitchel Zimmerman thought that he might be walking into a problem.

The vocations director was on a nine-day pilgrimage (Aug. 7-15) with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, 26 archdiocesan seminarians, and three other clerics.

On Aug. 12, he and six seminarians decided to hike to Chasm Lake at Longs Peak and, from there, climb to the summit. They started out at 5 a.m.; by 7:30 a.m., they were being whipped by cold rain and 50-mile-per-hour winds. They took temporary shelter under a boulder and then continued on.

“At the Keyhole, almost the 13,200 mark, we met hundreds of people coming down,” said Father Zimmerman. “They said it was too windy to get through the Keyhole. [The wind] must have been 80 miles an hour, and I was afraid of getting blown off the mountain.”

Father Zimmerman gave up, but three seminarians pressed on.

“Archbishop Naumann must have been praying especially hard,” said Father Zimmerman. “They made it through and around the corner, and met only eight people who were able to [reach the] summit that day.”

Fortunately, most of the pilgrimage offered Rocky Mountain highs of a safer, more spiritual nature.

This was the second year that Archbishop Naumann made a pilgrimage with archdiocesan seminarians. Last year, he took them to Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in nearby La Crosse, Wis.

The first leg of this year’s pilgrimage included stops at significant Catholic sites in Kansas: the Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in Mound City; St. John Nepomucene Parish in Pilsen, the home parish of Father Emil Kapaun, whose cause for sainthood is currently under consideration; and the Cathedral of the Plains in Victoria.

The seminarians joined up with the archbishop in Colorado. There, they toured the cathedral in Denver and met Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., and Auxiliary Bishop James Conley; stayed at the Camp Saint Malo retreat center; visited the Mother Cabrini Shrine; and participated in a number of recreational and spiritual experiences.

A good time was had by all — but this was no vacation. There were some important reasons for this journey.

“One of the most important things I, or any bishop does, is ordain priests,” said Archbishop Naumann. “Consequently, the formation of priests and identification of those called to the priesthood is a very important responsibility for a bishop. It’s important for me to get to know as well as I can those who I will — God willing — ordain to serve the church as priests.”

Spending time with the archbishop was deeply appreciated by the seminarians.

“I think we got to know him at a different level, other than just your superior,” said Trent Schmidt, a third-year theology student at the University of St. Mary of the Lake – Mundelein Seminary, near Chicago. “We got to see him let his hair down. He joined us on hikes, and we had some candid conversations.”

And the archbishop, he discovered, plays a mean game of pingpong. Fishing, however, was another story.

“We went fly fishing, and it was my first time,” said Augustin Martinez, a second-year college student at Conception Seminary College, Conception, Mo. “I caught five fish. The archbishop had done it before, but he didn’t catch anything.”

One of the most fruitful things Daniel Schmitz experienced was simply watching the archbishop.

“As I observed how he interacted with my brother [seminarians], I clearly saw how he is a father to us,” said Schmitz, a first-year theology student at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis. “We are [blessed] to have a bishop who cares this much. Seminarians from other dioceses I was with this summer have barely shaken their bishop’s hand, much less spent five days with him on pilgrimage.”

Another benefit of the pilgrimage, said Archbishop Naumann, is that the seminarians get to know each other. The 26 are spread out over four different seminaries. Although they might know the men in their own schools, they have few opportunities to meet those in others.

“Building the fraternal bonds between them now will help establish the bonds that will be very important for the presbyterate in the future,” said the archbishop.

Most importantly, the pilgrimages are an opportunity for the archbishop to share his spirituality with the seminarians. Everything revolved around and involved prayer. The pilgrims spent time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, read the Gospel of the day, and recited the rosary together. And, of course, they worshipped together at daily Mass.

“At Masses, I tried to give substantial homilies that addressed some of the important issues in the formation,” said the archbishop. “This was a time I shared with them my understanding of the priesthood and tried to shape them to be holy, zealous priests.”

The seminarians, in turn, received not only a short-term boost to their morale from the pilgrimage, but believe it will have a long-lasting effect on their formation.

“It was reaffirming to my vocation to be able to witness the sincere joy of my brother seminarians outside of the Masses we serve together,” said Jeff Lamont, a pre-theology I student at Mundelein. “The daily Holy Hour and liturgy in the little Saint Malo Chapel was very powerful. The homilies Archbishop Naumann delivered were incredibly insightful,” he continued, “and it was a holy and spiritual experience that I will continue to reflect on in prayer.”

The next pilgrimage will be to World Youth Day in Spain in 2011.

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