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Diocese of Wilmington youth cross pilgrimage adapts to late route change when city can’t provide necessary coverage

Bishop Koenig leads a group from St. Elizabeth on Saturday, April 9. Dialog photo/Don Blake

WILMINGTON — The annual youth cross pilgrimage, held for the first time since 2019, took place April 9, but with a few changes from previous years. Late notice from the city of Wilmington prompted the Office of Catholic Youth Ministry to re-plan the day to take place within view of St. Elizabeth Church.

The diocese found out the afternoon of April 8 that the city would not be able to provide the police presence necessary to safely escort the approximately 370 students and adult leaders through the streets as planned. So instead of beginning and ending at St. Elizabeth, with stops at St. Francis Hospital, St. Anthony of Padua Church, Padua Academy, St. Paul Church and St. Hedwig Church in between, the day and its events all occurred on the campus of St. Elizabeth Parish and at neighboring Canby Park.

“For safety and security, we are not walking on the sidelwalks. We’re just going to stay on the St. E’s campus and around Canby Park,” said Dan Pin, the director of Catholic Youth Ministry.

Messages left Saturday with Robert Tracy, the chief of the Wilmington Police Department, and Tom Ogden, the chief of staff for Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, were not immediately returned.

The students and their adult leaders heard from Bishop Koenig, who was disappointed that the original four-mile route was changed because “I’ve been working out,” he said.

The bishop asked the students if they knew what a pilgrimage was all about. It is, he explained, “really a one-day experience of what life is about.” We gather together and walk with one another to support and encourage each other and to be examples for each other, he said.

“It’s what we’re called to do throughout our lives,” he said.

The other part of a pilgrimage is to stick to it. Even though the route had been changed, the group would still be taking hours to do what was on the agenda. We’re called to continue to progress. And part of a pilgrimage is doing not what we want to do, but what we have to do. In this case, it is following God’s voice.

When he was in college, there was a poster on his wall. It had a big hill with a single road going up the hill and nothing else around. The line on the bottom of the poster read, “The race goes to the one who keeps running.”

“We continue to go to the next place to experience God’s love,” he said.

Madison Branham, a member of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Centreville, Md., attended her first cross pilgrimage. She said her parish normally sends confirmation candidates to the event.

“They bring us up here, and we learn more about the church,” Branham said.

It allows the students to develop more of a bond ahead of their confirmation, which is scheduled for May 7. She said she was looking forward to the opening concert by the Scally Brothers, whose performance was extended to help compensate for the shortened walk.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,” she said.

Another high school student, Valerie Ortiz of Aquinas Academy, has been to the pilgrimage in the past. She fondly recalled the “prayer environment” from her previous experience.

“It’s such a good preparation for Holy Week. It made me feel very prepared and more passionate,” she said.

She said her favorite part of the day was going to confession. “The feeling after is just the best part,” she said.

About 11 priests joined Bishop Koenig in hearing confessions during the afternoon. Several diocesan seminarians were also on hand to provide information about vocations to the students and to help with the events.

Despite the late changes, Pin said it was nice to have the event back after two were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. He suspected that feeling was widespread.

“I see a lot of smiles and a lot of happy faces,” he said.