Pilgrims ‘in awe’ as over 1,000 arrive in tiny Maryland town for National Eucharistic Pilgrimage

Emmitsburg Many people were struck by the number of people who took part in the Eucharistic procession in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 6, 2024. | Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

The tiny town of Emmitsburg, Maryland, (population 3,629) grew by approximately 50% on Thursday, June 6, when a crowd of as many as 1,500 Catholics joined two Eucharistic processions through its normally sleepy streets.

Emmitsburg is home to the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint. Rob Judge, the shrine’s executive director, said it was likely the largest gathering in the town since Mother Seton’s canonization in 1975.

“To see people flowing in and adoring Our Lord and just using this space to have an encounter with him is — it’s humbling for all of us that are here every day,” Judge said.

Over a thousand people follow the procession on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Over a thousand people follow the procession on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

The processions through Emmitsburg and to neighboring Mount St. Mary’s University and Seminary are part of the broader National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which itself is an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival — an effort to help foster a greater understanding and devotion to the mystery of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The pilgrimage kicked off on Pentecost in four routes launched from the East and West coasts and the northern and southern borders of the nation. Nearly every day for two months, the faithful across the country are joining Jesus in the Eucharist as he makes his way through their towns and cities. The four routes converge in Indianapolis on July 16 for the National Eucharistic Congress

The Seton Route, which began in New Haven, Connecticut, and processed through Emmitsburg Thursday is named after the saint who is honored at the shrine. Zoe Dongas, who is one of the “Perpetual Pilgrims” traveling the entirety of the route, expressed admiration for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton during the events at the shrine. 

The "Perpetual Pilgrims" on the Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage kneel at Mass on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
The "Perpetual Pilgrims" on the Seton Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage kneel at Mass on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

“I’m personally really inspired by how Mother Seton, in her conversion and in her love for the Eucharist, was willing to stake everything on Jesus and the Eucharist and she was willing to accept the social issues that would come with that,” Dongas said. 

Father Roger Landry, chaplain of the Seton Route, said at the shrine that, despite the constant processions, “only four of us have gotten any blisters whatsoever.” Landry is accompanied by six “Perpetual Pilgrims,” who are accompanying Jesus in the Eucharist for the entire route. 

He added that “beyond the physical stamina that’s needed, there’s clearly a spiritual stamina.”

“As a priest, I make a retreat every year … [but] that’s different than having the Lord Jesus two inches from your nose for half [of] your day,” Landry continued. “And so building up that spiritual stamina so that you do not take the awesome gift for granted by overexposure is something that we likewise need to work on.”

According to the priest, experiencing the history of the Church and the beautiful basilicas, along with the large number of people joining the processions, has been an “overwhelmingly exhilarating” experience throughout the pilgrimage. 

“That is a greater source of fuel than the fuel we’re expending step by step,” Landry said.

Archbishop William Lori celebrates Mass at the basilica at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Archbishop William Lori celebrates Mass at the basilica at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

After a morning Mass at the Basilica of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori led the procession outside, holding the monstrance aloft as priests, seminarians, and the faithful followed. At Mother Seton Catholic School — an all-girls elementary school started by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton herself in 1810 — the procession was met by a group of school children.

A young girl receives the Blessed Host at the Basilica of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
A young girl receives the Blessed Host at the Basilica of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

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The children sang “This Little Light of Mine” and other songs as the Eucharist was displayed for adoration. The 1.4-mile-long procession resumed, stopping to pray at two Catholic cemeteries: one behind the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on DePaul Street and the other beside the shrine.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore holds the monstrance at the head of the procession. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore holds the monstrance at the head of the procession. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
The priests prepare the Eucharist for adoration on the school's blacktop. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
The priests prepare the Eucharist for adoration on the school's blacktop. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
The procession stops at Mother Seton Catholic School in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
The procession stops at Mother Seton Catholic School in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal hold the processional canopy as the pilgrimage continues. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal hold the processional canopy as the pilgrimage continues. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Processioners prayed and sang hymns, which were guided by organizers using a van with a loudspeaker to lead attendees in the prayers and the songs. At the stops, many participants — among them young adults, families with children, and several elderly attendees — knelt in the grass or in the street to adore the Eucharist held in a monstrance, which was placed on an altar set up for the procession.

A woman kneels as the Eucharistic procession passes by. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
A woman kneels as the Eucharistic procession passes by. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

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Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love take in the Eucharistic procession. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love take in the Eucharistic procession. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

The Frederick County Sheriff's Office temporarily blocked off the roads along the procession routes, which led to a short-term backup of cars along Main Street.Monsignor Andrew Baker, the rector of the nearby Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, said he was “in awe of the number of people that came out to adore [Christ], to be with him, to praise him.” 

“I don’t think Emmitsburg has seen anything like this,” Baker added. “... I did my best to turn around and try to see the crowd and I couldn’t see the end of it.”

The procession stops to pray at a cemetery in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
The procession stops to pray at a cemetery in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 6, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

The afternoon procession, starting at 1:30 p.m., was a longer — and more arduous — trek from the Seton Shrine to the National Shrine Grotto of ​Our Lady of Lourdes. Still, several hundred people stuck around for the 3.5-mile uphill journey, which Mother Seton and the other religious sisters at the Sisters of Charity would take in the early 1800s to attend Mass on St. Mary’s Mountain.

The pilgrims and processioners marched down South Seton Avenue, turned onto Old Emmitsburg Road, which runs parallel to U.S. Route 15, and through the campus of Mount St. Mary’s University and Seminary to get to the grotto. The route from the Seton Shrine to the grotto has an elevation gain of about 750 feet. As the path became steeper toward the end of the journey, the procession began to slow down before reaching the grotto sanctuary. 

The procession travelled up the hill to Mount Saint Mary's University and Seminary — the same route that Mother Seton took to go to Mass. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA
The procession travelled up the hill to Mount Saint Mary's University and Seminary — the same route that Mother Seton took to go to Mass. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

During the procession to the grotto, attendees sang hymns, prayed the luminous mysteries of the rosary, and — as the marchers began to slow down amid their ascent at the steepest part of the procession — prayed the Litany of the Passion of Christ. 

“Jesus, fastened with nails to the cross, have mercy on us,” the prayer says in part. “Jesus, wounded for our iniquities, have mercy on us. Jesus, praying for your murderers, have mercy on us.”

The faithful kneel in adoration of the Eucharist at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Credit: Tyler Arnold
The faithful kneel in adoration of the Eucharist at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Credit: Tyler Arnold

The priests celebrated Benediction in the grotto shrine. The sanctuary honors Our Lady of Lourdes with a replica of the grotto that was the site of Marian apparitions in Lourdes, France, in 1858. There are also numerous statues of the Virgin Mary and other saints, along with artwork for the stations of the cross and the mysteries of the rosary.

Although Emmitsburg is not near any major population area, many people traveled from within Maryland as well as Pennsylvania and Virginia to take part in the processions. One attendee from Maryland, Lora McMunn, told CNA the procession was “incredible” and it was great to see families, young people, and “old people” all together for the processions.

“It’s important that people get together with other people who share the faith and that we present ourselves to the world as Catholics … and show [people] that this is what [we] believe,” McMunn said.

The procession travelled 1.4 miles from the basilica at the Seton shrine. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
The procession travelled 1.4 miles from the basilica at the Seton shrine. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Elizabeth Ann Seton was born into a prominent Episcopalian family in New York City in 1774 but converted to Catholicism in 1805, two years after her husband’s death. She had five children with her husband. The future saint moved to Maryland because of the state’s strong Catholic presence and because of the social stigma she faced in New York from her Episcopalian friends and family following her conversion.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton entered into religious life and founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph in Emmitsburg, Maryland — the first community for religious women to begin in the United States. She also founded the first free Catholic school for girls. She is the first Catholic saint born in what became the United States of America.

One of the driving forces of Mother Seton’s conversion was her recognition of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist — which she began to notice upon seeing the strong Catholic devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

The shrine to Mother Seton has a basilica, which holds about 850 people, and a newly opened museum, which contains artifacts and personal writings from the saint. There are also historic buildings near the shrine.

The Seton Route dipped south to Baltimore and will make its way to the next procession in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, June 8. Following the procession in the nation’s capital, the pilgrimage will move into southwest Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, before heading further west into Ohio and its final destination in Indiana.

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