One night, 10 pilgrims, seven churches

One night, 10 pilgrims, seven churches
Father William Kelly, pastor of Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish in Glassboro, stands with those preparing to depart for the traditional Holy Thursday pilgrimage on March 24. Greg Coogan, Director of Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Camden, is fourth from left. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Father William Kelly, pastor of Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish in Glassboro, stands with those preparing to depart for the traditional Holy Thursday pilgrimage on March 24. Greg Coogan, Director of Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Camden, is fourth from left.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Over the past few years, I have come to enjoy more and more the passage of Holy Week. Through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, I take to heart the words of Saint John Paul II, who implored all to “Not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

What should we fear, when our salvation is already won?

Especially, during that sacred week, I have looked forward to a Holy Thursday tradition I have with friends. After celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a parish, we will take a pilgrimage to seven churches in the area, carpooling to different locations. At each one, we pray for a brief time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at the start of the Lord’s Passion.

This ancient practice most likely originated in Rome, where early pilgrims visited the seven major basilicas as penance: Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls, Saint Lawrence-Outside-the-Walls, Saint Sebastian-Outside-the-Walls, and Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem.

The tradition continued on March 24 as I joined young adult friends in a seven-church pilgrimage, organized by the Camden Diocese’s Office of Young Adult Ministry. The night saw us travel by bus to different parish communities, joining in faith and prayer with the Catholic Church of South Jersey.

After celebrating together the 7 p.m. Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish in Glassboro, the 10 of us made our way to Saint Bridget’s University Parish in Glassboro. Meeting the needs of the young students at Rowan University, the church also serves as a home for local Hispanics.

Next, we made our way to the city of Camden, specifically to Saint Joseph’s Church in South Camden.

Father Pawel Krzyskiewicz, Saint Joseph’s pastor, met us at the door, and provided a history lesson on the church’s origins. Established in 1892 by Polish immigrants, the European-style church served as an anchor for South Jersey’s Polish-American community in the early 20th century.

Looking at Saint Joseph’s holy relics situated on the altar rail, European-style architecture, and remarkable stained glass windows, I found it humbling and inspiring to pray before God in a house that so reflected his beauty.

We made on our way through another part of Camden, to Saint Joan of Arc Church, Saint Josephine Bakhita Parish. Its pastor, Father Gerard Marable, led us and other faithful in prayer and meditation.

Most Precious Blood Parish in West Collingswood was our next stop. We knelt next to members of its multicultural English and Vietnamese faithful, as we asked God for strength in helping us build up his kingdom and share his message of salvation with all.

Our bus made a turn back into Camden, to the see of the Diocese of Camden, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Father Michael McCue, parochial vicar, led us through the church’s Holy Door, as we recalled Jesus’ abundant love and forgiveness during this Year of Mercy.

The last stop before heading back to Glassboro was Saint Anthony of Padua Church, in the Cramer Hill section of Camden. After a warm welcome from Brother Juan de la Cruz Turcios, OFM, we joined its Hispanic families in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Making it to Glassboro after midnight, I felt refreshed as I made it to my car for the ride back to home. As the Twelve celebrated Jesus’ Last Supper, hearing his call for a communal worship in remembrance of what he was about to undertake, we 10 young adults, and countless others who made their own pilgrimages that night around the world, experienced the Divine together. As an Easter people, we can’t help but spread that joy with all.

Peter G. Sánchez is a Catholic Star Herald staff writer.

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