Seminarians discern a closer walk with Jesus walking the pilgrimage

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Seminarian Mason Bailey, center holding a candle, and other pilgrims, process from St. Theodore's Catholic Church in Laporte, Minn., along the Paul Bunyan State Trail during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage May 20, 2024. Bailey, 24, is one of seven seminarians who are traveling the four routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which began in California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas May 18-19 and converges in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17-21.(OSV News photo/Courtney Meyer)

WALKER, Minn. (OSV News) — Mason Bailey found out he would be walking in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage eight weeks before it began. A seminarian for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, Bailey acknowledges it was a “quick turnaround” to train for distance walking and other preparations, but “honestly, the whole process has been very blessed,” he said.

Bailey, 24, is one of seven seminarians who are traveling the four routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which began in California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas May 18-19, to converge in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17-21.

Seminarians on the pilgrimage

On the northern Marian Route with Bailey is Blase Gebes, a South Dakota native who is in formation at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota — a southeastern Minnesota city where his route’s pilgrims will celebrate Mass at its cathedral on June 6.

On the southern St. Juan Diego Route are Noah U’Ren from the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, who studies at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Dylan Young from the Archdiocese of Washington, who studies at its St. John Paul II Seminary.

On the eastern St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route is Christoph Bernas, who is in formation for the Diocese of Pittsburgh at its St. Paul Seminary, while also studying at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. The western St. Junipero Serra Route includes two seminarians for the Archdiocese of San Francisco in formation at St. Patrick’s Seminary at Menlo Park, California: Dereck Delgado and Jimmy Velasco.

Having seminarians join the five or six other young adult “perpetual pilgrims” and their priest and religious brother chaplains on each route provides the young men “a unique formational opportunity” that allows them “to also be a witness to other young men who may be discerning a vocation to the priesthood,” said Joel Stepanek, vice president of programming and administration for National Eucharistic Congress Inc.

“A Eucharistic revival requires a revival within the priesthood,” he told OSV News.

Roles and responsibilities

Stepanek noted that the seminarians are equipped to take on liturgical roles in the processions, Holy Hours and Masses along the way, and they also share responsibilities with the other perpetual pilgrims.

“The seminarians assist the route chaplains and help with liturgy; they also fulfill many of the roles that the perpetual pilgrims do with loading and unloading the trailer, walking with Jesus, and speaking to people along the way,” he said.

Delgado and Velasco just completed a pastoral year of formation, and Delgado said he aims to bring the experience and new insights gained from a year with a parish to the pilgrimage route. He hopes people along the pilgrimage routes experience a deeper love for the Eucharist and a sense of unity as Catholics.

The Eucharist is central to his vocation story: He first considered the priesthood while in adoration on a confirmation retreat in high school. The 26-year-old expects the pilgrimage to aid his discernment and “to amplify” his desire for the priesthood, building on the time he already spends in daily Holy Hours and at Mass.

“As we’re making our way through small towns, deserts, through all these unique places we’ll be visiting, my hope is that anybody who sees Jesus — who sees us walking with our Lord — that will inspire them to deepen their own faith, to think about what the Eucharist is: the Eucharist being that self-gift of our Lord,” he said.

Preparation and expectations

As the only seminarian on the Seton Route, Bernas prepared for the pilgrimage by long walks with his dad, he said. “I love to hike. I’m a big outdoors person,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go on a pilgrimage and experience that, and so that’s what drew me toward this.”

Before the pilgrimage began, the 21-year-old told OSV News he expected to end his days on pilgrimage physically and mentally spent, but in a good way.

“I’ll be tired from witnessing Christ to the world, bringing the light of Christ out into the world where it’s badly needed,” he said. “My prayer is that … we definitely get the word out to as many people as possible — both Catholics and Christians in other denominations — that the Eucharist is a great treasure which has been given to the Church and the Christian people. There’s so much grace, beauty, power held within it that I want everybody to know about that, so they can cultivate a stronger prayer relationship with Jesus through the Eucharist.”

He added: “I hope that this really energizes me for the rest of my life to fall deeper and deeper in love with Jesus every day and help others do that.”

Deepening understanding of the Eucharist

Sitting in the back of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Walker, a fishing resort town in northern Minnesota, Bailey had just completed a 12-mile procession May 20 while wearing a cassock and holding a processional candlestick. In the two weeks since, he and the other pilgrims have logged many more miles over several dioceses.

Like other seminarian perpetual pilgrims, Bailey expected the pilgrimage to deepen his understanding of the Eucharist, and, in particular, the priest’s relationship to Jesus in the Eucharist.

“As a priest, I will be uniquely conformed to Christ, and that’s in a Eucharistic way,” he said.

He said he had been reflecting on the book “Distributed Like Bread: Hans Urs von Balthasar Speaks to Seminarians” by Jonathan Ciraulo, one of Bailey’s professors at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana.

“He says the priests should be like an ordinary loaf of bread that’s blessed, broken and given to his people,” Bailey said. “So that’s what it’s like.”

Maria Wiering

Maria Wiering is senior writer for OSV News.