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2013 Youth Pilgrimage: days 8-9

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If there was any doubt in the youths’ minds that a pilgrimage requires pushing through adversity, this years’ three-day walk would remove those doubts altogether. Nothing but rain, mud and cold were our companions for the march from Chartres to Paris, but they did not snuff out our spirit of pilgrimage. The chaplain had mentioned in his fervourino in Lourdes that sometimes the greatest cross is the fear of crosses, using the example of worrying about the coming rain for the Chartres pilgrimage. While it is true that it was much better to embrace the rain than worrying about it, it is also true that the crosses themselves were quite repugnant to our fallen human nature, especially when extended for three days.

The first half of the first day started out with quite pleasant weather, but after lunch that all changed. The temperature dropped, the skies threatened and then came the rain that swept at the marching column from the side. Out came the ponchos and clothes, shoes and socks started soaking. Being so far away from Paris and with two nights of camping still to come, the end to our soggy circumstances threatened our hope a bit.

The group kept their spirits up, nonetheless, and kept praying and following the meditations that were allotted this year. As we walked, we heard various meditations read within the chapter about this year’s theme – St. Joseph. Day one was dedicated to St. Joseph, a Just Man, while day two focused on him as Head of the Holy Family, and finally, day three concluded with St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. These considerations came at an important time for the SSPX, having just consecrated our order to St. Joseph. They were also very pertinent since the French government just recently passed laws allowing for homosexual marriage, against which 1,000,000 French rose in demonstrative opposition. This was no less pertinent for the American youth as the same defense of these same sins against nature is being touted in our own country. At least three more states will "legalize" such abominations this year, bringing the total to twelve. What a breath of fresh air it was to hear about the virginal but real marriage between St. Joseph and Our Lady, which fostered and nurtured the Son of God.

As we walked along, the stars and stripes flew at the head of the chapter as a representation of our country. It always makes us proud to be American when we come on this pilgrimage, not because of the false principles on which our country was built, but for what our country could be. We represent a small Catholic contingent that carries our country’s flag in a holy pursuit to make it a truly great nation, that is, not one that polices the world to the overturning of monarchies for the installment of liberal democracy, but one that could heavily influence the countries of the world to accept Christ the King.

Also, as a remembrance and an encouragement, we hung the nametag of one of last year’s pilgrims on the flagpole. Beth Gerads was one of the youth who enjoyed this trip last year and who made this same walk, but unfortunately she passed away on February 6 of this year. Her nametag hung in memory of her and a reminder to our youth that they are all on borrowed time, but it was also put there as an encouragement to have the same zeal for the Catholic faith and for life as Beth had. Last year’s trip was one item on her life’s agenda and we pray that it helped her to prepare for eternity. The group also said some prayers for Beth’s soul.

As you will see in the pictures, there is another flag flying beside the American flag this year. Some young people, whom the chaplain had met in Estonia, bravely made a long journey to come take part in this pilgrimage. They braved a forty-four hour bus ride from Tallinn, walked the entire pilgrimage, and then with soaked clothes and luggage finished the pilgrimage by immediately getting back on the bus for their return trip home. Their silent perseverance during the trip was a good example for our American youth who were happy to have their hotel and shower as soon as the pilgrimage ended.

Day two gave us cloudy skies and then rain in the afternoon. The normal place where the pilgrimage camped that night was unavailable this year since the previous owner had passed away, and the family who currently own it were not as obliging as before. It was clear that, as St. Joseph trying to seek shelter in Bethlehem for Our Lady, the pilgrimage company had to find a place for everyone to spend the night. Our stable came in the form of an extremely muddy field for Mass and an even muddier bivouac for camping. During Mass, the paramedics came in four times with a stretcher to remove pilgrims who had passed out or collapsed from cold or from the elements. At the bivouac, one could hardly find a tuft of grass in order to help keep him from sliding and sinking in the mud. Again soaked shoes and feet caked with mud pushed on to find the best spots to set up a tent for sleeping. Just as a child who goes to bed early on Christmas Eve in hopes that Christmas will come sooner, so we tried to get to sleep in hopes that day three would come sooner and we could retire from this mud hole.

Our muddy luggage was placed on the buses again in the morning and we set out in song to complete the march to Paris. Just to make sure that we did not get too comfortable, though, a regular rain fell all day as we approached the city. Cold, weary, soaking and with sore feet, we nibbled our lunches in the Bois de Boulogne, the forest just outside Paris.

As the column merged into one large group, we entered the city singing altogether as usual and with passers-by wondering what planet we had come from with our muddy clothes and gaunt faces.

Finally we arrived at the place of Mass where more pilgrims were removed by the medics in emergency. Also during the Mass the District of France was consecrated to St. Joseph completing the difficult but rewarding walk in his honor.

Having finished and located our luggage amidst the horde of other pilgrims doing the same in a very confined area, we made our way back to the hotel wondering why we willingly undertook this. There are only supernatural reasons because otherwise to do what we did would be irrational. We made this pilgrimage to understand what St. Joseph understood, namely, how to trust in Divine Providence and how to persevere in the night of faith. There were certainly times during the walk that pilgrims, worn out and uncomfortable, would have given anything for a warm shower and square meal. But with St. Joseph as our companion, we followed him to the Egypt of Paris, as strangers in a foreign land and embracing the discomforts that a Christian life promises. It tested our wills in a way that will certainly not soon be forgotten. May it help us all to realize the littleness of the other crosses we have to deal with and to push through them all the way to heaven.

Finally, we want to thank again all of the benefactors who made this trip possible for the youth. They appreciated it and there is no doubt that they benefited from it. May this apostolate continue to bear fruit in future years with your continued help.

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