SAN DIEGO — Young adult Catholics in San Diego will have the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage – and they won’t even have to leave their home diocese to do so.
The diocesan Office for Young Adult Ministry, in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Modern Catholic Pilgrim, is sponsoring a one-day “Pilgrim Walk” on Saturday, June 12, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Participants, ages 18 to 39, will walk an almost 7-mile route that will take them from The Immaculata Parish, located on the campus of the University of San Diego in Linda Vista, to St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach.
After an opening prayer and a spiritual talk, the pilgrims will begin walking at 9:30 a.m. They will take a half-hour break at Mission Bay for a second spiritual talk. The young adults are expected to arrive at St. Brigid’s between 12:30 and 1 p.m. for quiet prayer outside the church, before heading to nearby Law Street Beach for fellowship.
Registration is $20 per person. A continental breakfast will be provided by the Office for Young Adult Ministry. Lunch will be provided by St. Brigid’s young adult ministry, led by coordinators Scott and Jacqueline Weeman.
Despite the walking involved, the upcoming pilgrimage should not be mistaken for a hike, said Will Peterson, founder and president of Modern Catholic Pilgrim.
Peterson, 28, will be leading the upcoming pilgrimage. He explained that pilgrims, unlike hikers, have a prayer intention that they carry with them as they walk and, upon reaching their destination, it is left in the hands of God, Mary or one of the saints.
“It’s pretty simple, but there’s a great richness to it,” Peterson said of the concept of pilgrimage, which he describes as “a rich form of prayer.”
Modern Catholic Pilgrim’s chaplain, Capuchin Franciscan Father Christopher Iwancio, expounded on that idea.
“With any pilgrimage, I can’t help but reflect on the African proverb, ‘When you pray, move your feet.’ Our faith tradition reminds us that our faith needs to be embodied. … God is not an abstract phantom floating out there as a philosophical idea. We believe as Catholics that God became flesh, which means that God can be encountered in the physical world.
“A pilgrimage allows an individual to encounter God while spending time deep in prayer, not just with the mind and heart, but with the body as well,” said Father Iwancio, who studied the influence of pilgrimage on young people as part of his doctoral dissertation.
Father Iwancio had been slated to lead the Pilgrim Walk, before it was rescheduled from April 17 to June 12.
Michael Jezewak, 29, participated in a multi-day pilgrimage offered by Modern Catholic Pilgrim in August 2018, walking from Mission San Diego de Alcalá to Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside. He came expecting nothing more than “a fun, three-day hike with some spiritual elements.” But once the pilgrimage concept was explained, he set off toward Mission San Luis Rey with a prayer intention that he and his wife, Alyssa, would be prepared for parenthood.
“It was … more powerful than I was expecting, which I think is always a hallmark of a meaningful spiritual experience,” said Jezewak, who discovered about a month after the pilgrimage that Alyssa was pregnant with their first child. He is planning to participate in the June 12 pilgrimage – this time, with his now 2-year-old son. (The Jezewaks are also the parents of a 3-month-old son.)
The theme of the upcoming pilgrimage is the “Road to Emmaus,” the Gospel story in which the resurrected Jesus journeyed alongside two crestfallen disciples traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus in the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion. The disciples failed to recognize the risen Christ until He broke bread with them at journey’s end.
“Most people are familiar with it,” Patrick Rivera, director of the Office for Young Adult Ministry, said of the Emmaus story. “But very few people have really lived something like that in a tactile way like a walk.”
He expressed hope that the pilgrims will gain “lived experience” of walking with Jesus and of having Him reveal Himself to them.
Peterson noted how the disciples in the Emmaus story responded after realizing they had encountered Jesus.
“What did they do? They immediately ran back to Jerusalem to share the good news that they had experienced,” he said, suggesting that the pilgrims follow suit. “How are we called to go forward after our pilgrimage experience? Having encountered Christ, how are we called to then come back to our communities, set on fire and changed, so as to change our communities for the better?”