Our pilgrims from the Diocese of Lincoln recently
returned safely from World Youth Day 2011 held in Madrid. We were blessed to
experience this momentous pilgrimage. Now it is time for us to process it.
One of the challenges of a World Youth Day
pilgrimage is trying to experience the many Catholic opportunities available
without rushing through them in such a way that the lasting benefits are
lost. While most of us can appreciate this dynamic from our vacation
experiences, what is at stake is so much greater with regard to a
pilgrimage. There are so many graces to be gained… and to be lost.
As the leader of our diocesan group of pilgrims
(110 strong), my responsibility of keeping track of pilgrims, communicating
with guides and drivers, making quick adjustments in our schedule and
handling crises could easily deny me the opportunity to get into "pilgrim
mode" and thus deprive me of the graces that come from this proper spiritual
disposition. The recent trip is my fifth World Youth Day, all of them having
been experienced as an administrator and group leader. With eleven other
capable priests in my group, I had the wisdom to establish a division of
labor, allowing me to make this the most fruitful (and least stressful) of
all of my World Youth Day experiences.
The ancient maxim that we need to "stop and smell
the roses" is the true challenge of any pilgrimage. When there are so many
beautiful things to see, sometimes we take advantage of the opportunity to
take pictures quickly as we pass by and then process the significance of
what we saw later. It is a useful way of handling the experiential overload
involved when enjoying many new experiences in rapid succession. The guide
books I bought at several Marian shrines will also help me to appreciate the
blessing of being on holy ground at so many religious venues. But I also
made a special effort to pray—really pray—at so many extraordinary
The experience that we as Catholics have most
often is the flip side of the coin. Our Catholic rituals as so familiar to
us that we can either take them for granted or think they are not very
special because they seem so ordinary. The Sacraments of Penance and the
Eucharist are prime examples of this Catholic phenomenon. They are so
accessible that we often fail to appreciate their value, or we forget that
they are extraordinary encounters with Christ and, as such, are meant to be
truly prayerful experiences. Our pilgrims had many opportunities to receive
the Sacraments. Mass was celebrated daily as a group and various Confession
times were also offered. It was quite a sight to see many of our pilgrims
confessing to eight of our priests lined up along the front wall of St.
Isidore Church in Madrid as we waited to go inside for Mass.
Our whole life is a pilgrimage. No matter what we
experience as Catholics—be it on a particular pilgrimage or retreat, or
simply from our weekly Catholic routine—we do benefit greatly from working
to understand and appreciate the significance of our Catholic Faith—its
beliefs, culture, prayers and rituals. The more we do so, the better
Catholics we are sure to become.
You may reach Fr. Eickhoff at the Office for
at 402-488-2040 or