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National pilgrimage stops in Chicago reveal life-changing encounters with the Eucharist

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, right, celebrates Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago June 30, 2024, for the perpetual pilgrims on the Marian Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and others joining the pilgrimage as it made its way through Chicago. (OSV News photo/Simone Orendain)

CHICAGO (OSV News) — A permanent pilgrim on the northern National Eucharistic Procession route heading toward Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress in July said at a stop in the Chicago area that before people can encounter the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist they first have to know who Jesus is.

Under the shade of a covered altar on the sunny grounds of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois, Brother Lawrence Johnson, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, told the few hundred faithful gathered for prayer June 27, “I find some people maybe lack a faith that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist but there are also others that it doesn’t seem that important to them because they don’t know the love of Jesus yet. And it doesn’t seem that important where he is because they haven’t met him yet.”

Alternating between Spanish and English, Brother Lawrence implored the crowd seated or kneeling before the small silver and gold monstrance housing the Blessed Sacrament to ask God to make himself known.

“This is a good time to invite all of us to a renewed time of prayer with our Lord Jesus Christ who is here present on the altar and to begin to ask him, … ‘Lord, if you are there, call me. If you are there, speak to me about your love. Maybe that’s something I may be lacking but show me who you are and who you want to be for my life,'” said Brother Lawrence, who is also the son of nondenominational Christian missionaries.

Brother Lawrence, 36, said as a person of deep faith and certainty that the Lord Jesus was his savior, he converted in 2011 some time after he learned about the Real Presence in writings of the church fathers and also a book about the Mass while completing a masters in theology at the University of Notre Dame.

He told OSV News before giving his testimonial that the people the perpetual pilgrims encountered along the route have had various levels of devotion to the Catholic faith.

“It’s a real mix. Definitely people who have strong faith; but also sometimes people (for whom) maybe there’s a procession and they don’t know how to act; and there are people who are maybe having a first experience of Eucharistic adoration or … a Eucharistic procession,” said Brother Lawrence. “There’s a real grace; there’s an invitation to say, ‘We’re a church, we’re not judging,’ like you have to know what this canopy is called, ‘the umbrellino,’ over Our Lord. … It’s not about having this Catholic knowhow. It’s about, as a church, digging deeper into what we already have.”

Jose Luis Ferrer of Chicago went to Eucharistic adoration for the first time and prayed the rosary with the faithful in both Spanish and English. Sitting in the shade away from the shrine’s altar grounds, Ferrer, 48, ate tamales with his family. He said he was still learning how to pray the rosary from his mother.

Ferrer gestured to his forearm as he described the experience to OSV News.

“At the point, where I was on my knees and everyone was praying the Our Father and I told my mom (in Spanish), ‘Pass me a tissue so I can wipe my tears,’ I felt it right here on my arms. I felt my hairs go up,” he said.

Unable to find the words to describe the monstrance, Ferrer called it a “saint’s relic” in Spanish. He said just as Brother Lawrence called the faithful to do, he prayed before the monstrance and could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Ferrer explained he was recently divorced and coming to the shrine to attend the Holy Hour with both his parents and a cousin made him very happy; it gave him “joy and comfort again to walk this beautiful planet.”

Brother Lawrence said he was hopeful the Eucharistic pilgrimage was reaching those who especially were not as familiar with the Real Presence.

“I hope what’s going on is a fanning of the flames,” he said. “There are the embers there of baptism and of the faith, and it just needs a little oxygen and it comes out stronger, clearer and brighter than before.”

During the Mass to kick off the Eucharistic events at the shrine, the celebrant, Father Jesus Puentes, said in his homily, “Let us spend time in adoration today and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament. This experience will transform our lives.”

A running theme of hope and healing in Jesus Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist was the send-off for some visiting perpetual pilgrims of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage from the Chicago leg of their journey. Pilgrims on routes coming from four points of the country converge on Indianapolis July 16 for the start of the July 17-21 National Eucharistic Congress.

On June 30, the last day of the northern Marian Route pilgrims’ visit to the Chicago area, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich presided over a standing-room-only Mass with pilgrims attending at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.

In his homily, the cardinal said the Eucharist is a reminder of Jesus’ “victory and triumph over death,” especially in times when the faithful are faced with their own mortality or are “gripped with fear about failure.”

Cardinal Cupich said, “Today as we celebrate the Eucharist, with these wonderful texts, these stories of the healing and power of the Eucharist, let us keep in mind that it is a moment in which we also are given a new hope about our lives.”

The cardinal was referring to the Gospel reading from Mark in which Jesus heals the woman who was hemorrhaging for 12 years by the mere touch of her hand on his garments and where Jesus takes hold of a 12-year-old girl’s hand and tells her to “arise.” She was believed to have died, but got up and walked at his word.

Danielle Schmitz, a 20-year-old perpetual pilgrim on the Marian Route, gave a reflection after Communion. She said the pilgrims have been walking for the past six weeks from state to state with Jesus Christ (hidden under the appearance of bread in the monstrance) because they have each had an encounter with him present in the Eucharist “that radically changed our lives forever.”

Schmitz said her encounter happened two years ago during Mass.

“I didn’t know that my identity was as his daughter in the Eucharist,” she said. “I didn’t know that the love I was searching for — all those desires in my heart I desired to be filled — I didn’t know until that moment that they would be fulfilled in the Eucharist. I didn’t know the healing and freedom that I so desperately wanted from the Lord would be found in the Eucharist until that Tuesday daily Mass.”

She explained, “When I went up to receive him and in that moment, in a place of complete desperation, of just wanting the Lord to show up in my life, I felt him speak into my heart that I was his daughter and if I stayed close to his Eucharistic presence I would have the freedom and adventure, the dreams and desires I had always longed for.”

After the Mass, the cardinal led a small procession holding the uncovered Eucharist in a small silver and gold monstrance, walking briskly under a bright sun around the one-block grounds of the cathedral’s buildings.

Lorelie Flores of Chicago’s western suburbs attended the Mass and processed for the first time with the Eucharist. She described the experience to OSV News.

“I’m so happy and it’s very overwhelming because I truly believe that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus,” she said with a quiver in her voice.

Simone Orendain writes for OSV News from Chicago.

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