Year of Mercy Pilgrimage: Youth Walk 80 Miles to Cathedral

Walking from the farthest reaches of the Archdiocese of Chicago, over 50 youth are making a grueling 80 mile journey to Holy Name Cathedral. What brings them there? It’s the “Holy Door” instituted by Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy.
“We are uniting the Archdiocese by opening our hearts to God's mercy.”
On Monday, June 25th, the first group of twenty-five young women began the trek of their life, departing from St. Peter Parish in the Lake County village of Volo. On Monday, June 27th, thirty young men will begin the same five day journey.

On the road: Fr. Nathan Caswell takes a moment to talk with a pilgrim.

The pilgrims walk through farmland, woodland, city streets, and across sacred thresholds, as they visit seven Archdiocesan Year of Mercy sites. But it is their final destination—the “Holy Door” at the Cathedral—that is so eagerly awaited.

The youth are accompanied by Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC, director of youth ministry for both St. John Cantius and St. Peter Church in Volo.

“This walking pilgrimage is a microcosm of our whole life,” says Fr. Caswell, “We are all on our way to Heaven. Some of us walk faster, and some of us walk slower, but we all have to help each other.”

The girls sing and pray at St. Ita Church in Edgewater in the last leg of their journey.

The five-day walking pilgrimage is a retreat for the pilgrims—but a uniquely different kind of retreat.

“It’s a retreat times 100,” said Anne Seybert, 18, “Unlike a typical retreat where you are away from sufferings, we have to face our sufferings. Here is where we learn to practice the virtues, and grow closer to God in the midst of suffering and hardships of daily life.”

“The pilgrimage is not an escape—this is living life, to the full,” said Seybert.

Nathalie Corbett, a recent college graduate, sees this as an opportunity to reflect on the big picture.

“This is an opportunity to get away from the business of our lives and take a week to get along with other people.” said Corbett, “We are able to appreciate how the little things and bigger things are united.”

Anne Seybert, Grace Chapello, and Bridget Higgins are among the over 50 youth making their way to Holy Name Cathedral

With their backpacks and a small wooden cross, the band of pilgrims wind their ways through paths rough and plain, narrow and broad, wanting to live the message of the “Year of Mercy” here in Chicago.

“We are uniting the Archdiocese by opening our hearts to God's mercy,” said Marley Wellwerts, who is preparing for her first semester of college this fall.

“That mercy is lived out along the journey,” says Fr. Caswell, who noticed how the youth accompany one another in charity along the way.

“I saw another girl take another girl’s bag to help her walk. No one else saw it. This is what we are called to do. We are called to ‘bear one another’s burdens.’”

“We're learning to walk with the Lord,” said Wellwerts.

After arriving at the Shrine of All Saints in Morton Grove, the pilgrims kneel before the Holy Door.

Venerating the relics of the saints at the Shrine of All Saints in Morton Grove.

The pilgrims have Mass every day with Fr. Caswell at the various shrines and churches along the way.

“In this pilgrimage the Mass stands out as a moment of peace and restfulness,” said Fr. Caswell, "The spiritual realities really stand out, the scriptures especially stand out out in high relief.”

The pilgrims at St. Raphael the Archangel church in Old Mill Creek

For the pilgrims, the journey to Holy Name Cathedral has a deep meaning for their own lives.

“On Sundays when we go to these churches, we are in and out, and it may not mean as much. But when we are taking the time to journey, suffering along the way, it really makes you think how important that something is—how important that someone is,” said Seybert.

Annie Streeter and other pilgrims finding a photo opportunity along the way.

Arriving at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest

The moment of completing the long journey will be a moment filled with emotion.

“There will be a lot of relief,” says Corbett, “every single day we get closer is a relief.”

“We all come from different homes, different churches, but for us Catholics, the Cathedral is the center of these homes.” said Seybert.

“After all the hardships of this journey, I will arrive home.”

After walking 80 miles, these pilgrims arrived at the Holy Door of the Cathedral on Friday, June 24th.