The Blessing of Pilgrimage – A Journey in Faith!

This coming March (19th – 30th), Patrick Coffin (of Catholic Answers) and I will lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. You are invited to come! Details are available here: Catholic Holy Land Pilgrimage.

As I prepare for that trip I recall that one of the greatest moments in my entire life, and certainly in my life as a priest, was celebrating Holy Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, at the Latin altar on Golgotha, the very site of the crucifixion. Not far away, just at the other end of the Church was the site of the resurrection. I was overwhelmed to think I was at the very site to which every Mass points.

calvaryThe site of the crucifixion and burial of the Lord is well documented both archaeologically and historically. A large church was built over the site in the Byzantine period (the period just after the Edict of Constantine). Parts of the current church date back to the 7th century. At one end of the church is a tall hill, covered over by the church structure but reachable by steep stairs. At the top of the platform high up in the church, the rock face of Calvary is exposed and there is a hole (under the Orthodox altar) through which pilgrims can reach to touch the rocky spot where the cross stood. Just six feet to the right of that is the Roman Catholic (Latin) altar where I was privileged to celebrate Mass with my parish group (see photo at right).

A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is not a mere trip—it is a journey in faith. It is designed to grow our faith and confirm it. We pray and celebrate Mass every single day. Each day we visit several sites that we have always heard about and read in the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments.

There is nothing like walking through the streets of ancient Capernaum, standing in the ruins of the synagogue where the Bread of Life discourse was given. What an amazing experience to sail the Sea of Galilee, or go to Nazareth and look into the archeological remains of the simple home where the Angel Gabriel visited Mary! What a view from Mt. Tabor down into the Jezreel Valley, the “Valley of Armageddon”! It is nothing short of glorious to be in the hill country of Judea and walk the steep hill up to the Church of the Visitation. Jericho, too, never fails to amaze. And what an experience to go back up to Jerusalem and sit on the Mount of Olives, looking over the Kidron Valley! Ponder that our Lord sat here as well, looking down on ancient Jerusalem. Yes, what a view! Imagine spending time in quiet prayer in the Garden at Gethsemane and thinking of that difficult night for our Lord more than 2,000 years ago.

The Holy Land—there is just nothing like it! Even though I’ve been there twice, I still can’t wait to go back.

Another strong impression from my previous visits to the Holy Land is how very Catholic it is. To go to the many sites is to “enter” the Catholic Church, at least physically. At almost every site, a Catholic church dominates the scene: at Capernaum (where the loaves and fishes were multiplied), at Cana, in Nazareth, on the Mount of the Beatitudes, on Mt. Tabor. In all these places there is only one church building, and it is a Catholic church building. In Jerusalem, too, most of the sites have a Catholic church on or adjacent to the site: The Mount of Olives, Dominus Flevit (where the Lord wept over Jerusalem), the Garden of Gethsemane, the house of Caiaphas, the place of the trial before Pontius Pilate.

I wonder what Protestant Christians experience as they visit site after site and see, once again, a Catholic church (Blessed Sacrament and all) either at the site or literally on top of it. And in the few sites where the church is not Catholic (Bethlehem and Holy Sepulchre) it is the Orthodox who oversee it. In both cases there is a strong Roman Catholic presence. I do not intend to convey a triumphalist attitude, but only to say that I feel very proud and happy to be a Catholic when I’m in the Holy Land. Almost every site is fundamentally a Catholic site.

Gratitude for the Franciscans – We ought to be very grateful to the Franciscans of the Holy Land for the wonderful care they provide for these holy sites. They have been most kind to the groups I have led, allowing us to say Mass as well. At each site they are hospitable to people of every faith. They keep the churches clean and the holy sites in good repair. They have also accommodated archeological research and have been most helpful to the process of verifying the authenticity of the sites.

Please consider visiting the Holy Land. The pilgrimage that Patrick Coffin and I will lead takes place early next year (March 19th – 30th 2017). We will visit all the crucial sites: in Galilee, up north, in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in Jericho, and the Dead Sea down to the south. If you’ve never been before, I assure you that your life will be changed as all the sites you have always heard of are suddenly right before your very eyes.

More information on the trip is available here: Catholic Holy Land Pilgrimage.

Patrick Coffin put a video invitation together that you can view here:

Dublin’s Pilgrim Walk

One of the unique events of this Eucharistic Congress in Dublin is the Pilgrim Walk. Noting the revival of people’sinterest in pilgrim walks, the Congress committee created the route around seven of the oldest churches in Dublin. Readers of this blog from the Archdiocese of Washington know of the annual Seven Churches Walk sponsored by our Young Adult Ministry and this Dublin walk is very similar.

I began my walk with Mass and the  Reconciliation at St. Mary Pro-Cathedral, the mother-church of the Archdiocese.  I wound my way through the city, stopping at St. Anne’s, founded in 1723 where Irish poet and writer, Oscar Wilde was baptized. At St. Anne, there is a bread shelf located by the choir. It was a tradition to stack the shelves with loaves of bread which the hungry and poor were welcomed to take.  From St. Anne’s, I headed for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, home of the Carmelite Fathers and established in 1279. Here pilgrims had a chance to venerate the relics of Saint Valentine.

From St. Anne, on my way to St. John’s Lane Church I passed the house where Frank Duff founded the Legion of Mary in 1921. St. John was built by the Augustianians in 1280 and this year has been a special one for the parish as it celebrates the 150 Anniversary of the “Solemn Blessing and Laying of the Foundation Stone,” on Easter Monday in 1895. Not far from St. John’s and in the very neighborhood that is home to Guinness’s Beer world headquarters and plant is St. James church, St. James, founded in 1844, has a special link to the Camino de Santiago as many Irish pilgrims have their Camino passport stamped at St. James before starting out for Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

The sixth visit was to the Gothic style Church of St. Mary of the Angels, which started as a chapel site around 1689, following the Battle of the Boyne. This really beautiful church with a rich wood ceiling was established in 1868. I ended my pilgrimage at the parish of St. Michan, the oldest parish in Dublin. Historical records show the presence of a Christian Shrine dating back 1,000 years, though the present church was not constructed until 1730. The presence of a chapel for some 1000 years has some support in the fact that at the Episcopal Church also named St. Michan, in the same neighborhood, there are catacombs with graves that have been dated at 800 years.

This pilgrim walk was not just a history lesson, but a time for extended prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. A number of the Churches have extended hours of Exposition during the Congress and many added Masses so that pilgrims can take full advantage of this time of walking with Our Lord. In prayer, one is able to recall themes from the homilies and catechetical sessions that come alive in private prayer and to pray for God’s blessing that the fruits of the Congress will be carried to the home dioceses and parishes of the pilgrims. At each church, pilgrims end their time of private prayer with this prayer:

Lord Jesus, you were sent by the Father to gather together those who are scattered.

You came among us, doing good and bringing healing, announcing the Word of Salvation and giving the Bread which lasts forever. Be our companion on life’s pilgrim way.

May your Holy Spirit inflame our hearts, enliven our hope and open our minds,

So that together with our sisters and brothers in faith we may recognize you

in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. May your Holy Spirit transform us into one body and lead us to walk humbly on earth, in justice and love, as witnesses of your resurrection.

In communion with Mary, whom you gave to us as our Mother at the foot of the cross, through you may all praise, honor and blessing be to the Father in the Holy Spirit and in the Church, now and forever. Amen

Order My Steps

Buen Camino,” I quickly learned is the greeting of pilgrims along the way of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Last month, I had the good fortune to walk 150 km of “The Way” with my sisters and a good friend. For nine days, we set out each morning to walk across Galicia toward Compostela. Not long into the first day,  I started humming one of my favorite Gospel hymns, “Order My Steps.” Our days were dedicated to walking with Our Lord on a path carved with the footsteps of the millions of pilgrims who began to walk it in the ninth century and have not stopped. The first pilgrims were seeking to venerate the tomb of St. James the Apostle, the first evangelist to bring the Good News to Spain and to seek his intercession. Over the centuries, pilgrims have followed for many spiritual reasons and in some cases for no real reason at all! Some of the pilgrims I met admitted that what started out as a physical challenge, an extreme vacation of sorts, did become a retreat of some sort. I think it is the grace of  what is holy ground. It really struck me that pilgrims, whether believers or not, entered the Cathedral and stood at the tomb of St. James, many even staying for the celebration of Mass.

Order My Steps

Order my steps also became the prayer and the fruit of the pilgrimage. In one sense the difference between a pilgrimage and a hike is not simply the destination—a holy place– but the way in which one walks. The entire endeavor and therefore each day was given to God. Beyond daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours and a rosary each afternoon, it became clear that we were entrusting every part of our day to God. The weather was everything from rain to snow to hail to sun and so we quickly developed an attitude of gratitude for seeing a break in the clouds over the next hill or receiving an hour or two of no rain. We trusted we would find a place to stay and food to eat at the end of our day, though we had not one single reservation placed ahead of time. When the miles grew long and the packs heavy and the feet sore, we remembered we were carrying hundreds of petitions from friends, family, and colleagues and we consciously joined our little suffering to Our Lord’s for all the intentions for which we promised to pray.

The daily routine of the pilgrimage has a monastic flavor to it. Pilgrims are asked to leave the hostels and hotels by 8:00 am. Most pilgrims walk anywhere from 10 to 20 km a day and so are walking for four or five hours and when done for the day, there is the washing of clothes, attending Mass, enjoying dinner and conversation with fellow pilgrims and sleep. The schedule in itself for most pilgrims is much simpler than a daily routine back at home. The walk allows for lots of time to think and ponder and pray and to enjoy the incredible gift of the beauty of Galicia but it offered me something more. I began to think a lot about the ways my typical day is ordered—or not—to God.

The Daily Pilgrimage

When I returned home would I be as conscious of ordering my steps to God? What needs to change in the pattern of my daily life that allows a more conscious sense of walking with the Lord and remaining “in the moment” with Our Lord. Thankfully, though my blisters are just about fully healed, what other little pain or discomfort or sacrifice can I make on behalf of the prayers people have ask me to pray everyday?  Since returning home, I have been consciously aware of calling to mind the little practices of the Camino that ordered my steps toward God and to find a place for them in the hurried and harried pace that mark my days.

Walking in the Footsteps:San Giorgio

Guest blogger Chris Seith and photographer, Fr. Justin Huber guide us through San Giorgio:

Today, the English-speaking pilgrims walked to San Giorgio for the second day of Lent.  For those of us at the Pontifical North American College, we began our trek at 6:15 in the morning, walking alongside the Tiber River as the sun rose.  The location towards which we were headed has been used by Christians since the late fifth century.  Originally, the location was used as a center for social services and was later turned into a church in the ninth century.  The Saint it commemorates was a popular martyr during the Diocletian Persecution, the bloodiest persecution of the early Church lasting from the late third century until the year 311.  This Saint inspired many soldiers to remain courageous while they struggled to follow Christ.  He is also an inspiring Saint for the seminarians at the Pontifical North American College who hope to lay down their lives for Christ as Saint George did.  The church is connected to another inspiring figure as well.  San Giorgio was the titular church of the newly beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.

The readings for today connect us in a particular way to the witness of the martyrs.  In Deuteronomy, Moses tells us, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Choose life, then…”  With these words, Moses reminds the Israelites of the great gift of life which God has given them.  No doubt this seemed strange for a people wandering through the desert with no relief in sight.  Much like many in our time, the Israelites doubted the beauty of life amidst their many sufferings.  Yet in the Gospel, Jesus offers clarity by telling us that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  Our Lord offers a new perspective on life and invites us today to reconsider the grace of our Baptism.  Through this Sacrament, we have become sons and daughters of God.  God sees us as having died with Christ and risen with Him.  Therefore, when we embrace our daily crosses out of love for God, we live the reality of our Baptism by sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Suffering, then, is not a hindrance to living life abundantly but is rather the very means by which we do so.  When we unite ourselves to Him who is Love, life reclaims its original magnificence and beauty no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

Learn more at Church:

On Pilgrimage–Passport not necessary

 From the beginning Christians made pilgrimages. This picture comes from the Canterbury Tales, seemingly one of the most fun pilgrimages on record! One the earliest pilgrims was Egeria, a Gaelic woman who traveled to Jerusalem in the late 4th century and wrote some of the earliest accounts of the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter. Christians have been on the move ever since.

In the Presence of the Holy

In Catholic tradition, many pilgrimages follow in the footsteps of a particular saint. Other pilgrimages make their destination a visit to a relic of saint to seek his or her intercession. Still others visit a church or a place made holy by some event. This Lent in the Archdiocese of Washington, rather than going on pilgrimage, we are bringing the pilgrimage to you through an exhibit called The Eucharistic Miracles 

A Pilgrimage of Adoration

Our pilgrimage is in conjunction with The Light is ON for You. At selected parishes, on Wednesday evenings, there will be an exhibit of the Eucharistic Miracles of the World. These Eucharistic miracles have a special place  in the life of the church. The miracles took place all over the world and throughout the ages and remind us of Gods’ infinite grace and mercy. We hope that the storiesof  these miracles will strengthen your faith and deepen your appreciation of the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist.  

When presented with this idea, I have to admit that I was a little skeptical of what the display might look like and whether it would be of interest to people. However, when the exhibit arrived and I saw that the posters are really nicely designed and the wide variety of stories– some unbelievable and some unbelievably inspiring ,  I’ve decided that many people will enjoy learning more about the long tradition of  these miracles that tell a grand story of God’s presence made visible in an extraordinary moment.

 I think it is also important to note that believing in these miracles is not essential to the faith. A Christian is not obligated to believe in Eucharistic miracles. These miracles can, however, encourage a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist.  Their stories may help a person discover the mystery, the beauty and the riches of the Eucharist. Visit one of the exhibits and tell us what you think.

Mapping the Pilgrimage 

The exhibit will be on display during Lent on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. at the following parishes:


St. Peter, Capitol Hill, (2nd & C Streets, SE)

Our Lady of Victory, (4835 MacArthur Boulevard, NW)

Immaculate Conception, (8th & N Streets, NW)


St. Raphael, (Falls Road at Dunster Road, Rockville)

St. Catherine Labouré, (11801 Claridge Road, Wheaton)


St. Mary of the Assumption, (14912 Main Street, Upper Marlboro)

Sacred Heart, (16501 Annapolis Road, Bowie)


St. John, (43927 St. John’s Road, Hollywood)

Jesus the Good Shepherd, (1601 West Mount Harmony Road, Owings)

A Pilgrim’s Progress – The World Youth Day Experience

wyd01Today I welcome our guest blogger Alice Culbreth, Director of Christian Formation at St. Peter Church in Waldorf, to share her WYD experience.

Rome. Toronto. Cologne. Sydney. It’s hard to believe that I’m starting to prepare for my (and our parish’s) 5th World Youth Day Pilgrimage (to Madrid, Spain in 2011).  After  Rome in 2000, I really wanted to believe myself when I said “never again”:).  It is, by all worldly, physical and even emotional standards, a difficult journey to undertake.  While the spiritual benefits are amazing, far-reaching and life-changing, could any pilgrimage top the mountain-top experience of being in Rome during the new millennium and jubilee year?  Was it possible to embrace my faith at any deeper level then when I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica through the Jubilee Door for the very first time or kneeled at the tomb of the one whom Jesus handed the Keys of the Kingdom to?   And even if my spiritual life was nourished and nurtured beyond expectations , would it be worth the hardships endured?

Almost 10 years and 4 World Youth Days later, I answer with a resounding “YES”. Whatever struggles, sacrifices and significant occurrences of sleep deprivation have been offered up in prayerful humility, I would do it all again. While there have been many lessons learned along the way, I wouldn’t change the dynamics of these incredible walks with the Lord. I have been witness to emerging vocations, friendships formed beyond the language barrier, deepened prayer lives, embracing of the sacramental life of the Church, defining moments when our youth have come to the recognition that not only is it “cool to be Catholic”, but an honor and privilege as well.  What a blessing
it has been for me to be part of this!

I am so honored to have been called to help guide this young Church in their formation and lead them to friendship with Jesus Christ.  Being part of World Youth Day over the years has inspired me tremendously as I have seen the hope of our faith in the faces and shared prayers of these young people.  Being part of their enthusiasm, deep faith and commitment to the Gospel recharges my own spiritual batteries and reaffirms my own commitment to ministry in the Church.  If I had time (and the space in this blog, LOL) I would write about each one of these journeys and share the experience with  you! But this needs to ‘come to an end’ at least for now.

We’re just about two years away from Madrid in 2011 and on behalf of the Office of Youth Ministry, your parish is invited to join us on this exciting spiritual adventure. The office is already accepting deposits and we’re incredibly enthusiastic about the amount of time we will have to do fundraising before the actual trip. The pilgrimage begins in Fatima, Portugal and ends in Lourdes, France, with many stops at holy sites and shrines in cities throughout Spain.  If you’re interested in learning more about this opportunity, contact the Office of Youth Ministry at 202-281-2466.  Additionally, if you would like a team of adults/youth who have lived the WYD experience to come and talk to your parish about the why and how of participating, let the office know when you call.

Praying that you will continue to be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit in your
lives, hearts and ministries.

Grace and Peace,
Alice Culbreth
Director of Christian Formation
St. Peter Church – Waldorf

40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 19 – Pilgrimages – Annual Seven Church Walk for Young Adults

Like many world religions, Catholicism maintains the practice of making pilgrimages to sacred sites or shrines. In his time, Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595), Patron of Rome, would lead excursions to the four Major and three Minor basilicas of Rome. The day included music, catechetical instruction, and a picnic along the way.


The Pilgrimage to the Seven Churches of Rome included:

San Pietro in Vaticano

San Paolo fuori le Mura

San Giovanni in Laterano

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

San Lorenzo fuori le Mura

San Sebastiano fuori le Mura


Here in the Archdiocese of Washington we have our own Seven Church Walk! The Seven Church Walk serves as a spiritual preparation for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and is a unique way to see our historic city and its architectural diversity.


This year, the pilgrimage will be held on Saturday March 28 from 9:30am – 4:00pm. The day will begin with 9:30am Mass at St. Patrick’s Church (619 Tenth Street NW) and will include the Litany to St. Joseph, Stations of the Cross, Rosary, a meditation, prayers for Pope and Bishops, Divine Mercy, and Eucharistic Adoration.


The sites for the Seven Church Walk include:

St. Patrick

Immaculate Conception

St. Aloysius

St. Joseph

St. Peter

Holy Rosary

Mary Mother of God


Join more than a hundred young adults from across the Archdiocese as we visit and pray at these seven churches in downtown Washington, DC. Please bring water, a bag lunch (or money for lunch), a rosary, and a contemplative spirit. You must wear good walking shoes because we will be walking about 6.5 miles!


RSVP to [email protected]