This summer, a Marian Pilgrimage commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. It began May 16 with a Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in the northern part of the archdiocese and continued for 33 days, making stops at parishes in every deanery. A group of pilgrims carried a special statue of Our Lady of Fatima that was blessed by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr for the occasion.
Honestly, I had never participated in a pilgrimage before, nor had I ever felt called to do so. I enjoyed the idea of radiating Christ through Mary, but I wasn’t sure why we needed to carry a statue of her over 300 miles to do so.
In late May, during the second week, there was a plea for more pilgrims to walk and so I joined. I had the stressful job of directing traffic around the walkers who were busy praying chaplets and rosaries for the intentions submitted. The weather was wonderful, though clouds were looming behind us. Once we reached calmer roads, I relaxed a bit and felt the prayerful pace of the walk sink into my muscles and bones.
As we turned a corner, going about 2 mph, there was a woman who had stopped her car on the side of the road and flung open her car door, to kneel down in tears as the statue of Our Lady was processed by her. Another woman who was walking stopped to talk and pray with her. We later learned that this woman fell away from the Catholic faith some years ago and it was Mary who drew her back. Seeing Mary processing along her small-town country road overwhelmed the woman with joy and tears.
It was a wonderful moment and my spirit smiled at how the Holy Spirit had worked. I started to understand why we do pilgrimage. We continued for another half hour or so and the woman returned to our walking caravan, this time with her four children! She pulled over and they all hopped out and started walking. In sandals, skirts and carrying siblings, the children joined us, clearly not dressed for the occasion. Their smiles and energy were contagious, however, and they joined us in prayer. What a wonderful witness this family was to us pilgrims! It was moving to see the joy and commitment of their faith in their eagerness to change a day’s plans to walk with us.
Not long after, the looming clouds caught up with us and it began to rain. The children and their mother continued with us. Those of us who had them donned raincoats and hats. A covering was hung over Mary. A man was passing in an old pickup; he stopped to talk to one of the leaders. He offered us a shelter a half mile ahead. Like a mirage in a desert, suddenly a small town appeared over a hill, complete with a picnic shelter and place to park our RV. The rain and clock said it was a good time to stop for lunch. The pilgrims, including our new friends, shared food as if we were in the Gospel story of the leftover fishes and loaves. As we were finishing up, the storm clouds disappeared, and the sun peeked out for the rest of the journey.
I’m not sure what I expected from the pilgrimage, but my soul left each day with joy. The experience left me affirmed in my faith and blessed to be a part of something that has inspired and blessed so many others.
Story and photo by Jenna Legg