Archdiocese Local

Pilgrims reflect on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage

Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minn., celebrates Mass at St. Theodore’s Catholic Church in Laporte, Minn., during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage May 20, 2024. At right is Father Jeremy Heppler, a Marian Route chaplain and a monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas. (OSV News photo/Courtney Meyer)

by Jack Figge
Special to The Leaven

To kick off the summer, Father Jeremy Heppler, OSB, embarked on perhaps the most epic road trip of his life, traversing through northern Minnesota with the Blessed Sacrament.

From May 19–26, Father Jeremy, the outgoing pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Atchison, served as the chaplain for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s Marian route.

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is a 65-day endeavor during which four groups of perpetual pilgrims, along with a rotating team of priests, bring the Blessed Sacrament to parishes across the country as they journey toward Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress.

Father Jeremy’s Marian route began at the headwaters of the Mississippi through the rural countryside of Minnesota and through Minneapolis.

“I was really inspired by how many people in the very rural areas would come to the events,” Father Jeremy said. “These very rural churches would still be full, even though we would just be stopping by for overnight [eucharistic] adoration.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blesses those who gathered outside St. Benedict Church in Atchison during the first stop of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in northeast Kansas on June 26. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The moving moments, though, were not when large crowds gathered to process through the towns or during the grand liturgies, but in the simple moments walking through nature with the Lord.

“There was that one time after we had the blessing at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, we entered into a simple procession as we walked to a church that was five miles away,” Father Jeremy said. “As we walked through the park, we would occasionally run across people who would be out on bikes or running, and if they were Catholics, they would kneel and pray. I was always so moved by their displays of faith.”

Even though these moments seemed simple, the organization behind the national pilgrimage has been complex, as leaders billed it as the first-ever national pilgrimage. During his time on the road, Father Jeremy saw firsthand why this national pilgrimage is such an important event for the church. 

“It is important that this is a national thing because it’s a way that we as a church are coming forward and praying for individuals — not only the church but also the nation,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity to draw people from across the nation to come together. I met one family of eight who is following the entire procession to Indianapolis, and I met other people who drove six hours to participate in it.”

Father Jeremy Heppler, OSB, leads a eucharistic procession across the campus of Benedictine College in Atchison. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Another archdiocesan Catholic is journeying with the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage — Natalie Garza, a freshman theology teacher at St. James Academy in Lenexa. She is serving as a team leader for the perpetual pilgrims on the Seton route.

As a perpetual pilgrim, Garza will journey along the Seton route’s northeast path for the entire 65 days. She shared that already, the pilgrimage has enhanced her spiritual life, taking her to new depths in her faith.

“I have gained a deeper understanding of friendship with God and that he is with us all the time — whenever plans go really well or whenever plans don’t go well. When things change, he doesn’t change,” Garza said. “I think I’m starting to understand what the Scriptures meant whenever they were talking about walking with Jesus, because I have been literally walking with Jesus for 65 days.”

Even with the graces, the journey has been difficult. Every night, she sleeps in a different bed and constantly has to adapt to changing plans and new surroundings. But through it all, Garza remains inspired by the love her fellow teammates have for the Lord. 

“The biggest resource and gift that’s helped me whenever I’m tired is that I am in charge of the logistics and I’m thinking about different things,” she said. “I will look up at Jesus in the Eucharist as we’re driving in the van, and I’ll find myself also looking at my teammates and catching their gaze upon him, and it brings me back to remembering, ‘Oh, this is what we’re here for.’”

The monstrance containing the Eucharist is carefully placed inside a National Eucharistic Pilgrimage van to be transported from St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Nortonville to St. Joseph Church in Topeka on June 26. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

For Father Jeremy, the procession was more than an opportunity to encounter Christ in the Eucharist; it was a chance to experience the global church and see Jesus in those that were walking beside him.

 “We need to realize what a great blessing this pilgrimage is,” he said. “By welcoming the procession into town or going to the procession yourself, it’s going to help your spiritual life by helping you to see Christ but also to see Christ in one another, especially those who may be there and have never encountered Christ before.”

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will journey through the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas from June 25 in Atchison through June 28 in Kansas City, with a concluding Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter.

Father Jeremy is excited to welcome the procession to his parish of St. Benedict. He shared that he hopes many people will show up to experience what he participated in in northern Minnesota. 

“Just having the opportunity to be there with the Lord, not just walking or in times of adoration in the church, but even in those moments of driving from one place to another in the van with Jesus, was deeply moving,” he said. “I hope everybody has the opportunity to participate in these processions.”

About the author

Jack Figge

Leave a Comment