WILMINGTON — Rain greeted the approximately 400 youths and adults who gathered at the St. E Center in Wilmington for the return of the traditional youth pilgrimage through the nearby streets, but those gathered were ready to experience their faith despite the elements.
Retired Bishop Francis Malooly began the youth pilgrimage in 2010 after his arrival from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which had a similar event. Last year, participants were confined to the St. Elizabeth Parish campus and neighboring Canby Park after the city of Wilmington was unable to provide a police escort for the pilgrims to march in the streets. The 2020 and 2021 events were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The day opened a concert by the Scally Brothers, who traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to share their music and faith. The pilgrims included groups from parishes, schools, the Boy Scouts and a group called Youth for Christ. Many of the diocese’s seminarians also were on hand.
Bishop Koenig made his first full pilgrimage since arriving in Wilmington. He told the crowd to remind themselves of the reasons why they were embarking on this endeavor.
“The places we intend to visit are a monument to the devotion of the people of God,” he said. “They have gone there in great numbers to become strengthened in the Christian way of life and to become more determined to devote themselves to works of charity.”
The bishop also asked the participants to bring the word of God to those they may encounter along the way.
Lily Rowlands attended with a small group from Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Centerville, Md. It was the first pilgrimage for the Queen Anne’s County High School freshman, although an older sister had done one before.
“My sister said trust in the process. She said it was a lot of fun, and it was raining,” she said.
Rowlands said she was most looking forward to adoration, which was to take place at St. Paul’s Church while the sun shone brightly outside after the wet weather cleared. She said she did adoration at a retreat, “and it basically changed my life. I saw it, and it was the first time I believed God was real. When someone says, ‘Oh, the son of God is in this thing,’ I first saw it and it hit me like, ‘Yeah, God is in that.’”
Bridget Casey, a senior at Padua Academy and a member of the diocesan Youth Leadership Team, also was attending her first pilgrimage. She was looking forward to Stations of the Cross at Padua, where she is a Eucharistic minister.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people and traveling around and just talking about our faith,” Casey said. “It means a lot, just seeing everyone and how much they love their faith and they love the Diocese of Wilmington. It makes me happy.”
Before getting to Padua and St. Paul’s, the pilgrims made stops at St. Francis Hospital, where they prayed a litany of the saints, and St. Anthony of Padua Church, were confessions were heard. Jonathan Kook, a student at Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, attended the pilgrimage with the youth group from St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Hockessin.
He was at the pilgrimage because of his confirmation class, but he was looking forward to the experience.
“I’m kind of excited. I’m just here to go through itI think it’s a really nice thing to see younger people joining in for things like this, especially when you go to a school like mine, you don’t typically see that a lot,” he said.
Bishop Koenig explained that people used to go to Jerusalem from Europe and other places to see where Jesus lived and what his life was like. The journey could be dangerous because of the terrain and also the threat of robbers, but the allure remained.
“They wanted to walk where Jesus walked, that place where Jesus walked to. But something very interesting happened when they went back to their different towns in Europe,” he said. Those pilgrims wanted to walk the way of Jesus and be aware of him.
“In their very towns, they began to go on pilgrimages to different holy sites. And that’s what the origin is for ourselves,” he said.
Bishop Koenig recalled a pilgrimage he made a few years ago to Budapest, Hungary, during which a member of his group was missing one day when it was time to board the bus back to their hotel. The tour guide said she would find the missing pilgrim, and, sure enough, she did.
“I had read the story of the good shepherd countless number of times,” Bishop Koenig said.. It struck me at that moment that she’s like the shepherd who found this person in a massive number of people. God spoke to me at that moment. God will speak to you in different ways today. I would encourage you to be open to God’s voice.”
The day ended with Mass at St. Elizabeth Church, where palm was blessed out front before the group processed inside.
All photos by Don Blake.