Q: What do we do in a time of trial, strife, injustice, pandemic, [insert here]? A: Go on Pilgrimage

When enemy forces stood at the gates of Europe again and again during the Middle Ages, pilgrimage became the battle cry of the Catholic faithful, from noble to peasant.

Young Catholic Non-Profits Respond to the Global Crisis in their own Unique Way – or the Way the Church has always responded, with more than 300 Pilgrimages for Mary and to Mary in May   

By Chris Lanciotti, Creatio Program Director

Catholic pilgrimage continues in and out of season. It represents and brings to life the fundamental pilgrimage of the human person towards their eternal destiny. Christian pilgrimage has existed since the apostolic period, inheriting its rich tradition from the great journeys of the Patriarchs and the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Black Plague, attacks on European cities by foreign powers, and even all-out invasion did not stop Christians from making pilgrimages to Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and the Holy Land during the two millennia of the Church’s history. When enemy forces stood at the gates of Europe again and again during the Middle Ages, pilgrimage became the battle cry of the Catholic faithful, from noble to peasant.

The COVID-19 crisis became no small exception, pilgrimage must continue. As lockdowns and social distancing restrictions commenced, Creatio found itself faced with the reality that organizing our international pilgrimages and missions in the spring and summer of 2020 would be impossible. Nearly every spring and summer for the last seven years Creatio has organized dozens of walking pilgrimages from 50 to 200 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain and to Chimayo, New Mexico. This year we were planning to add a pilgrimage from Assisi to Rome in the Footsteps of Saint Francis walking over 120 miles through the hills of Umbria and Lazio.

With heavy Travel and Health Restrictions in place, Creatio teamed up with Catholic non-profit Modern Catholic Pilgrim (MCP) to organize walking pilgrimages right from our front door. Modern Catholic Pilgrim co-founder Will Peterson connected with the Creatio Team in 2019 at a Creatio event called the Outdoor Leadership Summit, hosted each fall. Peterson and the Creatio team resonated on the conviction that beauty and pilgrimage both have an incredible power to impact the young and old alike.

Creatio, in collaboration with MCP’s goal to reach 300 pilgrims for Mary in the month of May, organized a pilgrimage for more than 40 young adults to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Pentecost Sunday. Pilgrims were encouraged to walk from their local parish or home to the downtown Cathedral carrying gifts or basic necessities for the homeless.

For the first time in many years the end of the “Month of Mary” also coincided with the end of the Easter Season and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, an event at which Mary was present according to Catholic Tradition. The Mother of God being also the “Mediator of All Graces” and the first creature to be “full of grace” when the Spirit descend upon her at the Annunciation gives her a special place in the Feast of Pentecost. The coincidence of these spiritual events inspired Creatio to organize the pilgrimage on this important Solemnity.

Despite the health restrictions requiring social distancing and group size that were already in place, Creatio pilgrims faced a particular and unexpected challenge as the pilgrimage occurred just 2 days after protests, violence and rioting erupted in the downtown area of Denver over the weekend. Creatio decided to go through with the pilgrimage despite the Cathedral being only 3 blocks from the center of the protests. While the Catholic faith is surely and completely in solidarity with the truths behind the protests, opposed to all forms of injustice, racism, and inequality among human persons, it felt that our response was so foreign to the anger and vitriol that was witnessed in front of the cathedral the night before. I could not help feeling that very few people there could understand the value of what we were doing, of our pilgrimage in silence.

Gracefully we arrived safely and were greeted by Cathedral Rector Fr. Ron Cattany who offered us a Pilgrim’s Blessing, Holy Communion, Confessions, and Encouraging Words.

He related to us that at 1am someone had spray-painted the words, “There is No God” on the Cathedral’s Main Door. Fr. Ron told us that walking through the darkened Cathedral at 2am, with 40 SWAT officers and tear gas outside the Church, he looked at the Tabernacle framed by two red candles. From within the barricaded Church in the Center of a City in pain, he told us that he knew, “There was a God”…who would give rest to the soul of George Floyd, comfort to his grieving family, justice for a senseless murder, and peace to those affected in Minneapolis, Denver, and other cities around the country and the world. He was also inspired to let us know that the presence of a large group of committed young adult Catholics on pilgrimage from their church to the Mother Church, on Pentecost, was a profession of faith that “There is a God,” active within each one of us, through the Inspiration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

He asked our Pilgrims to pray for the Conversion of the one who wrote those words on the Cathedral doors, that he or she, too, may receive the peace that Jesus gave to His Apostles on Pentecost.

An unexpected surprise for the second group of pilgrims was the presence of Cardinal Stafford who greeted our group of pilgrims and gave them a blessing upon their arrival.

While the current global crisis has certainly altered Creatio and Modern Catholic Pilgrim’s course of action for the summer, they will continue to answer the call to “Lead with Beauty” by getting people outside and on the road or trail.

Join Creatio’s next pilgrimage to Chimayo, New Mexico — more info here.

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