Local stories, events, and Catholic inspiration in northeast Wisconsin

National Eucharistic Pilgrimage brings ‘Jesus into the streets’

A prayer procession with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament arrives in Howard on June 13. The procession, which started in Pittsfield, was part of Marian Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. Mass followed the procession at St. John the Baptist Church. The pilgrimage came through the Diocese of Green Bay June 12-18. (Jeff Kurowski | On Mission)

The Marian Route came through the diocese June 12-18 en route to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis

By Jeff Kurowski | On Mission

HOWARD — Matthew Heidenreich took a moment to pause after entering the narthex of St. John the Baptist Church early in the evening on Thursday, June 13.

Heidenreich, one of eight perpetual pilgrims on the Marian Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, had just completed walking from Pittsfield to Howard as part of the prayer procession with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

A passerby on his way to the church for Mass offered him gratitude for his inspiration.

“It’s inspiring for us,” Heidenreich told On Mission. “Sometimes we hear these messages about how hopeless everything is and how it seems like so many people are walking away from the church. But for me, this has been an experience about how many faithful Catholics there still are, how many people are willing to take a stand for what they believe and are burning for that love of Christ. Seeing 7,000 people in Minneapolis follow the Lord, that’s powerful. There are 300 people here for Mass.”

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage began on Pentecost Sunday, May 19. 

Four groups of young adults departed from the north, south, east and west to cover more than 6,000 miles. They will converge on July 15 in Indianapolis, two days prior to the start of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Marian Route (north group) started its journey at Lake Itasca in Minnesota. 

On Wednesday, June 12, the Eucharist was transferred from the Diocese of La Crosse to the Diocese of Green Bay at St. William Church in Wittenberg. A group of more than 50 young people representing parishes throughout the diocese were in Wittenberg to welcome the Eucharistic Lord.

“The joy among the young people was palpable as they opened their hearts to the Lord in silent prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, in the sacrament of reconciliation and in fellowship with their peers,” shared Kately Javier, religious education director for the Parish & Family Life Mission Team of the Diocese of Green Bay.

“The youth followed Jesus to the lakeshore for the final boat procession in Cecil,” added Javier. “From the lakeshore, young people listened intently as faithful disciples to Christ, the master who taught them from the boat and invited them to follow him. With hearts racing, having encountered the Lord truly present in the Eucharist, the young people now go forth as missionary disciples to share the good news of God’s love with all the world.”

The boat trip across Shawano Lake was not originally planned to be part of the June 12-18 pilgrimage in the diocese, said Tina Haanen, mission team coordinator for the Parish & Family Life Mission team of the Diocese of Green Bay. Haanen worked on logistics for the route.

“I met Deacon Todd (Raether, pastoral coordinator at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Cecil),” said Haanen. “We were trying to figure out how to go to Camp (Tekakwitha). Deacon Todd said, ‘I think we should do a boat.’ It came together.”

Heidenreich, who is from Columbus, Ohio, and attends the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said he had worked two summers in the northwest part of Wisconsin. He described the trek across Shawano Lake as “the most Wisconsinite thing I’ve ever seen — Catholics on a boat together.”

The events and experiences in each diocese on the route are different and there is beauty in those differences, said Heidenreich.

“There is the diversity of our church, yet there is unity,” he said. “Christ is coming the same way, but to vastly different communities. He’s always coming and bringing his presence.”

Heidenreich said that he was drawn to the journey of the pilgrimage because he’s a backpacker and he first encountered the Lord during eucharistic procession.

“I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school. But it was when I went to a Catholic summer camp is when I encountered the faith being lived out in a vibrant way,” he said. “I started to engage in daily prayer. It really came alive at that point. I attribute a lot of those experiences to why I’m here now.”

Fr. Michael Thiel, pastor of St. Denis Parish, Shiocton, and St. Patrick Parish, Stephensville, served as chaplain for the pilgrimage in the diocese.

“It’s God stirring up the hearts of his people,” he said. “The people who have already begun pilgrimage have had their hearts moved. Now they are on the move and Jesus is moving with them. We are bringing Jesus into the streets, outside the walls of the church, into the public. It’s an incredible witness to the depth of our faith.”

The pilgrimage featured a day of service on June 15. 

Diocesan employees, family members and volunteers, along with the pilgrims, assisted with food preparation at Paul’s Pantry and painting and yard work at the Whatsoever You Do House of Hospitality, both in Green Bay.

“Service has been cool,” said Heidenreich. “When we are at parish life, we see a snapshot, but to be able to enter into the needs of a community, really serve, it’s a deeper way to engage and that’s been such a blessing for us.”

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion hosted the Marian Route on Sunday, June 16, for Mass with Bishop David Ricken and a large eucharistic procession around the grounds. Heidenreich said that none of the perpetual pilgrims had been to the Shrine before, so they were excited to experience the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States.

Parishes in the diocese along the Marian Route hosted holy hours. The pilgrims also visited five different monasteries/convents.

The Holy Eucharist was transferred from the Diocese of Green Bay to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at Mass on Tuesday, June 18, with Bishop Ricken and Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee.

It was an honor to have one of the pilgrimage routes go through the Diocese of Green Bay, said Fr. John Girotti, vicar general and moderator of the Curia.

“It’s a very exciting time for us as Christians and Catholics because we are all on pilgrimage through life and we are all going somewhere,” he said. “Our goal is, of course, heaven. The Eucharist is how Jesus is present, how he nourishes us.”

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