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Pro-lifers rally in London amid consideration of abortion amendments

Representatives from the pro-life movement and their supporters gather to demonstrate in Parliament Square on May 15, 2024, in London. / Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 17, 2024 / 10:43 am (CNA).

A large number of pro-life people rallied May 15 outside the Houses of Parliament in London to protest a set of amendments that if passed would further liberalize the U.K.’s abortion laws, including one that critics say would allow abortions up to the point of birth.

As reported by the Catholic Herald, the rally in Westminster was coordinated by a variety of organizations such as Alliance Defending Freedom UK, Christian Concern, March for Life, Rachel’s Vineyard, and 40 Days for Life. Participants held signs and wore shirts with the phrase “No to abortion up to birth.”

At issue are a number of proposed amendments to a Criminal Justice Bill under consideration in the U.K. Parliament, one of which would amend U.K. law such that “no woman would be liable for a prison sentence as a result of seeking to end her own pregnancy.” The amendments were originally scheduled to be voted on Wednesday but are now scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, June 4.

According to the National Health Service (NHS), abortions in the U.K. can be carried out after 24 weeks only in very limited circumstances — for example, if the mother's life is at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability.

In a May 8 statement, Bishop John Sherrington, lead bishop for life issues and auxiliary bishop of Westminster, expressed support for an amendment from member of Parliament Caroline Ansell that would reduce the gestational limit for abortions from 24 to 22 weeks. Another amendment, brought by member of Parliament Sir Liam Fox, represents a step toward ending the U.K.’s current laws that allow for babies with Down syndrome to be aborted up until birth. 

However, Sherrington said he is “deeply alarmed” by two other amendments to the same bill. The amendment proposed by member of Parliament Dame Diana Johnson related to liability would remove any legal protection for unborn babies when a woman seeks to bring about her own abortion at any stage of pregnancy, he said.  

“A further danger presented by this amendment is that women could abort their own pregnancies at home through the use of abortion pills at any point in the pregnancy, which could seriously endanger a woman’s health and life. Moreover, the risks of coerced or forced abortion would only increase as the legal safeguards around abortion decrease,” he noted. 

The second amendment by member of Parliament Stella Creasy includes proposals to decriminalize abortion up to the 24th week for any party involved. 

“The Church recognizes the struggle and trauma which may lead some pregnant women to consider an abortion. Such difficult situations require pastoral and medical care for vulnerable women in their time of need. When cases of illegal abortions are prosecuted, it is for the judge to decide the appropriate balance of justice and mercy for all involved,” Sherrington said. 

“Our current legislation provides some level of protection for pregnant mothers and unborn babies by keeping abortion within the criminal law. Relaxing abortion legislation further would be a tragic mistake for both mother and child.”

“As Pope Francis has said: ‘It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved for both the mother and her unborn child.’ In England and Wales, both unborn child and pregnant mother deserve full protection under our laws, as some of the most vulnerable in our society,” the bishop concluded. 

This story was updated on May 17, 2024, at 3:15 p.m. ET with the information on the June 4 vote.

Vatican overturns own decision on seminary dean

Philosophical-Theological University of Bressanone in Italy. / Credit: Ladislav Luppa / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CNA Newsroom, May 17, 2024 / 10:13 am (CNA).

In a significant reversal, the Vatican approved the appointment of a new dean at a seminary in Northern Italy almost one year after first blocking the appointment over the candidate’s published views on sexual morality.

The Philosophical-Theological College in Bressanone (PTH Brixen) announced “with great joy” that Father Martin M. Lintner, OSM, has now been confirmed as dean and will take office on Sept. 1.

The appointment of Lintner, who teaches moral and spiritual theology at the seminary, faced opposition from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education in mid-2023 over his published works on Catholic sexual morality, particularly his views on same-sex blessings. 

In an article published in 2020 by New Ways Ministry titled “Theologian Suggests Papal Civil Union Support May Lead to Church Blessings,” Lintner is quoted as saying: “A homosexual relationship does not lose its dignity due to the lack of fertility.” 

Lintner also contributed a chapter offering “theological-ethical reflections on a blessing ceremony for same-sex couples” to a book titled “The Benediction of Same-Sex Partnerships.”

Rome’s position on Lintner’s appointment was reversed after the Vatican’s controversial declaration Fiducia Supplicans approved nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples in December 2023. 

On the news of his appointment, Lintner told German media that the appointment of a new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Victor Fernandez, had played a role. He also asserted that his case — the reversal of such an appointment — was setting a kind of “precedent.”

Lintner also expressed relief over his victory: “It is entirely in my interest to close this chapter, which has been stressful for everyone involved, and to concentrate on theological work again. I approach the new challenges as dean with joy and confidence,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Bishop Ivo Muser of Bolzano-Bressanone welcomed the Vatican’s decision, saying he wished the new dean a blessed start.

“I would also like to thank those responsible in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Education for all the personal and telephone conversations and for the decision that has now been made.”

The PTH Brixen, located in the Northern Italian region of South Tyrol (Alto Adige), is a significant institution in the predominantly German-speaking region offering courses in philosophy and theology. It is the academic training center of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone for priests and deacons, pastoral assistants, teachers of religion, and other pastoral vocations.

Peru’s government considers transexualism a mental health problem: what you need to know

null / Credit: Juanje Garrido/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, May 17, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A few days ago, the government of Peru published a supreme decree in which “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder” are considered “mental health problems,” among other points, causing controversy even within agencies of the executive branch. 

On May 10, the official newspaper El Peruano published supreme decree No. 009-2024-SA, which approves the update of the Essential Health Insurance Plan (PEAS, by its Spanish acronym), a document that details the list of diseases whose treatments are provided in public hospitals.

In this regulation, signed by Peru President Dina Boluarte, Minister of Economy and Finance José Berley Arista, and Minister of Health César Henry Vásquez, seven diagnoses considered “mental health” problems are included.

The diagnoses are “transsexualism; dual-role transvestism; childhood gender identity disorder; other gender identity disorders; gender identity disorder, unspecified; fetishistic transvestism;” and “ego dystonic sexual orientation.”

Until 2022, these diagnoses were part of the “Mental and Behavioral Disorders” chapter of the 10th version of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), which was updated that year and no longer considers them as pathologies.

After the publication of the decree, various organizations, such as the feminist group Manuela Ramos, rejected the regulation and expressed their concern about the possibility of “conversion therapies.” Feminists indicated that the regulation “intends to make gender and sexual diversity seen as a disease. We demand the immediate repeal of this measure.”

After complaints, especially on social media, the Peruvian Ministry of Health (Minsa) published a statement on May 11 in which it “reaffirms its position that gender and sexual diversity are not diseases. In this framework we express our respect for gender identities as well as our rejection of the stigmatization of sexual diversity in the country.”

In its statement, Minsa also said that “a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity does not constitute in itself a physical or mental health disorder and, therefore, they should not be subjected to medical treatment or care or to so-called conversion therapies.”

The statement also noted that the update of the PEAS was made “in response to the need to ensure the benefit of comprehensive mental health interventions, as conditions for the full exercise of the right to health and well-being of the person, the family, and the community.” 

However, despite the statement by the Ministry of Health, the decree remains in force: It has not been modified or repealed.

It should be noted that on Dec. 15, 1973, the American Psychiatric Association, which establishes standards in the field of mental health, removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. A group of homosexual activist psychiatrists championed this change.

Years later, in 2005, a former president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Nicholas Cummings, together with psychologist and author Rogers H. Wright, published the book “Destructive Trends in Mental Health.

Cummings and Wright pointed out, among other things, that “psychology, psychiatry, and social work have been captured by an ultraliberal agenda, much of which we agree with as citizens. However, we are alarmed with the damaging effect it is having on our science, our practice, and our credibility.”

“Although I am in agreement with many of the APA’s stances, I am opposed to the process that has diminished its credibility. It is no longer perceived as an authority that presents scientific evidence and professional facts. The APA has chosen ideology over science, and thus has diminished its influence on the decision makers in our society,” Cummings lamented in the book.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

New norms give Vatican greater say on alleged apparitions

A Marian apparition. / Credit: "The World of Marian Apparitions: Mary's Appearances and Messages from Fatima to Today"

Rome Newsroom, May 17, 2024 / 06:53 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s top doctrinal office is centralizing its authority over the investigation of alleged Marian apparitions and other religious phenomena under new norms it issued Friday, a break from past protocols that gave local bishops greater autonomy in discerning such cases.

While emphasizing that “discernment in this area remains the task of the diocesan bishop,” the new guidelines state that the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith “must always be consulted and give final approval to what the bishop decides before he announces a determination on an event of alleged supernatural origin.” 

The document spelling out the new procedures, titled “Norms for Proceeding in the Discernment of Alleged Supernatural Phenomena,” explains that the doctrinal office previously played a role in the evaluation process but generally did so behind the scenes.

“While previously the dicastery had intervened but the bishop was asked not to mention it, today, the dicastery openly manifests its involvement and accompanies the bishop in reaching a final determination,” the document states. “Now, when the bishop makes his decision public, it will be stated as ‘in agreement with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.’”

The DDF’s prefect, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who signed the document, held a press briefing for journalists at the Vatican Friday at noon local time.

The new norms take effect on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, abrogating the previous norms established under Pope Paul VI in 1978. 

One key component of the news norms is that only the pope can judge that an alleged apparition or other phenomenon is of "supernatural origin." It is beyond the scope of a local bishop or an episcopal conference to do so, the DDF says.

Centralizing control

In the document’s introduction, Fernández observes that under the older norms, “decisions took an excessively long time, sometimes spanning several decades,” delaying “the necessary ecclesiastical discernment.” 

Fernández also highlights that in the past there was greater deference to the local bishop in ascertaining the validity of alleged supernatural events, stating that “some bishops insisted on being able to make a positive declaration of this type.”

“Even recently, some bishops have wanted to make statements such as, ‘I confirm the absolute truth of the facts’ and ‘the faithful must undoubtedly consider as true …’”

“These expressions,” Fernández states, “effectively oriented the faithful to think they had to believe in these phenomena, which sometimes were valued more than the Gospel itself.”

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, presides over a press conference on Friday, May 17, 2024, on the Vatican’s new document on Marian apparitions. Credit: Rudolf Gehrig/EWTN News
Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, presides over a press conference on Friday, May 17, 2024, on the Vatican’s new document on Marian apparitions. Credit: Rudolf Gehrig/EWTN News

Responding to the “development of modern means of communication” and “the increase in pilgrimages,” the document notes that these alleged events assume a global character “meaning that a decision made in one diocese has consequences also elsewhere.”

The document also emphasized that there have been cases of alleged supernatural events that have been “detrimental to the faithful,” adding that the Church “must respond with utmost pastoral solicitude.”

Some of the issues Fernández outlines included “the possibility of doctrinal errors,” “an oversimplification of the Gospel message,” and “the spread of a sectarian mentality.” 

Restrictions on pronouncements

The new guidelines note that during the discernment process “the diocesan bishop is to refrain from making any public statement in favor of the authenticity or supernatural nature of such phenomena and from having any personal connection with them.”

The document continues: “If forms of devotion emerge in connection with the alleged supernatural event, even without true and proper veneration, the diocesan bishop has the serious obligation of initiating a comprehensive canonical investigation as soon as possible to safeguard the faith and prevent abuses.”

In those cases, the bishop must establish an investigatory commission to include at least one theologian, one canonist, and “one expert chosen based on the nature of the phenomenon.” 

The document also stipulates that an interdiocesan commission must be created to evaluate cases that involve “the competence of multiple diocesan bishops.”

The new norms emphasize that should “alleged supernatural events continue” during the  investigatory process and “the situation suggests prudential measures,” then it is incumbent upon the bishop to “enforce those acts of good governance to avoid uncontrolled or dubious displays of devotion, or the beginning of a veneration based on elements that are as of yet undefined.”

Weighing positives and negatives

During the evaluation phase, the commission is to look at both the “positive” and “negative” criteria of the alleged apparition, the DDF’s new norms state. 

The document identifies four positive criteria: 

  1. “The credibility and good reputation of the persons who claim to be recipients of supernatural events or to be directly involved in them, as well as the reputation of the witnesses who have been heard.”

  2. “The doctrinal orthodoxy of the phenomenon and any messages related to it.”

  3. “The unpredictable nature of the phenomenon, by which it is evident that it is not the result of the initiative of the people involved.”

  4. “The fruits of the Christian life, including a spirit of prayer, conversions, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, acts of charity, as well as sound devotion and abundant and constant spiritual fruits.” 

The new norms also set forth six negative criteria to be considered: 

  1. “The possibility of a manifest error about the event.”

  2. “Potential doctrinal errors.”

  3. “A sectarian spirit that breeds division in the Church.”

  4. “An overt pursuit of profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest closely linked to the event.”

  5. “Gravely immoral actions committed by the subject or the subject’s followers at or around the time of the event.”

  6. “Psychological alterations or psychopathic tendencies in the person that may have exerted an influence on the alleged supernatural event.” 

At the end of the evaluation process, the bishop and a delegate he appoints to oversee the commission’s work are to prepare a “personal votum” in which the bishop proposes to the dicastery a final judgment. That decision will normally follow one of six formulas:

  1. Nihil obstat: “Without expressing any certainty about the supernatural authenticity of the phenomenon itself, many signs of the action of the Holy Spirit are acknowledged ‘in the midst’ of a given spiritual experience, and no aspects that are particularly critical or risky have been detected, at least so far,” the document states.

  2. Prae oculis habeatur: “Although important positive signs are recognized, some aspects of confusion or potential risks are also perceived that require the diocesan bishop to engage in a careful discernment and dialogue with the recipients of a given spiritual experience.” 

  3. Curatur: “Although important positive signs are recognized, some aspects of confusion or potential risks are also perceived that require the diocesan bishop to engage in a careful discernment and dialogue with the recipients of a given spiritual experience.” 

  4. Sub mandato: “In this category, the critical issues are not connected to the phenomenon itself, which is rich in positive elements, but to a person, a family, or a group of people who are misusing it.”

  5. Prohibetur et obstruatur: “While there are legitimate requests and some positive elements, the critical issues and risks associated with this phenomenon appear to be very serious.”

  6. Declaratio de non supernaturalitate: “In this situation, the dicastery authorizes the diocesan bishop to declare that the phenomenon is found to be not supernatural,” the document states.

Next steps

Following the DDF’s final decision, the diocesan bishop, unless directed otherwise by the dicastery, “will inform the national episcopal conference of the determination approved by the dicastery” and “will clearly make known to the people of God the judgment on the events in question.” 

The document notes that a nihil obstat “allows the pastors of the Church to act confidently and promptly to stand among the people of God in welcoming the Holy Spirit’s gifts that may emerge ‘in the midst of’ these events.” 

The document explains that the phrase “in the midst of” denotes that “even if the event itself is not declared to be of supernatural origin, there is still a recognition of the signs of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural action in the midst of what is occurring.” 

But the norms stress that in cases where a nihil obstat is granted, “such phenomena do not become objects of faith, which means the faithful are not obliged to give an assent of faith to them.” 

As in the case of charisms recognized by the Church, the document states, “they are ‘ways to deepen one’s knowledge of Christ and to give oneself more generously to him, while rooting oneself more and more deeply in communion with the entire Christian people.’” 

In the press conference on Friday, meanwhile, Fernández said the new norms will allow bishops to “have a prudential character so that the faithful can accept this in a prudent way.”

In the new guidance, Fernández said, the Church “leaves the faithful free to devote their attention to this phenomena or not.”

“Revelation that has already happened is the word of God. It contains everything we need for our Christian life,” he said.

Catholic pilgrimages in the United States: a new renaissance?

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage begin the route from Augusta on Oct. 9, 2023. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

CNA Staff, May 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

This weekend, the longest Catholic pilgrimages ever organized in the United States — possibly the world — will commence on the edges of the country. 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimages, organized as part of the multiyear National Eucharistic Revival, will see a group of young men and women collectively walk over 6,500 miles, carrying the Eucharist across four different routes and meeting in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21. It’s not known yet just how many people will end up participating in the four pilgrimages, but organizers are hoping to attract tens of thousands. 

Arguably, in the past decade or so, Catholic pilgrimages in the United States have — if you’ll pardon the pun — hit their stride. The organizers of a number of prominent Catholic pilgrimages told CNA that they’ve seen interest among Catholics grow and promoted the idea of pilgrimage as a powerful means of spiritual revival. 

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

‘So overwhelming and so beautiful’

A pilgrimage is broadly defined as a journey to a holy place and is traditionally associated with walking. The concept of pilgrimage in the Catholic tradition is far from new, of course — the most famous pilgrimage in the world is arguably the 1,000-year-old Camino de Santiago through Spain, Portugal, and part of southern France. Last year, nearly half a million people from around the world did the Camino, a new record. Thirty-two thousand of those people were from the U.S., the largest foreign group represented.

Though the many world-famous European pilgrimages with centuries of pedigree are indeed attractive, Americans aren’t only flooding those trails. Many are blazing their own here at home and have seen their efforts rewarded with growing numbers of participants. 

In just over a decade and a half, the “Kansas Camino,” also known as the Father Emil Kapaun Pilgrimage, has grown from just five participants the first year to more than 100 a few years later. Scott Carter, coordinator of the Father Kapaun Guild in Wichita, told CNA that this year over 400 people from at least 26 states signed up to walk the 60-mile route over Kansas backroads beginning May 30. 

Pilgrims walk the Kansas Camino, which goes from Wichita to Father Emil Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. Credit: Diocese of Wichita
Pilgrims walk the Kansas Camino, which goes from Wichita to Father Emil Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. Credit: Diocese of Wichita

Kapaun was a Catholic priest and military chaplain who ministered to his fellow soldiers during the Korean War. Likely buoyed by recent developments in Kapaun’s sainthood cause as well as the providential rediscovery of his body and return to Kansas in 2021, the Kapaun Pilgrimage has exploded in popularity. 

Carter said the founder of the pilgrimage, Father Eric Walden, was in the military too and wanted a way to enter more deeply into the life of Father Kapaun. The route of the pilgrimage takes participants from Wichita to Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. 

Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of a Jeep as his altar on Oct. 7, 1950. Public Domain
Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of a Jeep as his altar on Oct. 7, 1950. Public Domain

Carter described the concept of pilgrimage as “sacramental in its nature, putting both our body and soul to work in response to God’s call.”

“On pilgrimage we contribute physically, mentally, spiritually to our prayers, and it often gives us comfort that we’re doing everything we can to leave our petition in God’s hands,” he said. 

On the Kapaun Pilgrimage, as on any pilgrimage, people walk for different reasons — some for a specific purpose or prayer intention, some seeking spiritual rejuvenation, others for the purpose of venerating the holy site at the end.

“I feel like everybody has their own story. Everybody has something that strikes them. But I do think there’s a unique way where the physical nature of the pilgrimage, the removal from our ordinary lives; it just invites us into something different and to experience something in a unique way,” he said. 

Pilgrims celebrate Mass on the hood of a Jeep during the Kansas Camino, emulating a famous photo of Father Emil Kapaun. Credit: Diocese of Wichita
Pilgrims celebrate Mass on the hood of a Jeep during the Kansas Camino, emulating a famous photo of Father Emil Kapaun. Credit: Diocese of Wichita

Carter said the joy that awaits pilgrims at the end of their journey is reminiscent of the joy we hope for as Catholics at the end of our life journey. 

“When you reach your destination, it was just so overwhelming and so beautiful, people cheering us on and everything. And so it’s a little hint, hopefully, of what heaven is like … the welcome that we’re going to receive when we’re finally walking through the pearly gates,” Carter said.

‘American Catholics are reengaging’

Gabe Jones, a father and a financial adviser with the Knights of Columbus, founded the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2015 in St. Louis. The roughly 24-mile annual walk aimed at Catholic men has grown from just a handful of friends in its first year to “just under 60 guys” in one of the post-pandemic iterations. Jones said they’ve had 30 or so participants on average in each of the nine years, with minimal promotion of the event apart from word of mouth. 

Even if their ranks aren’t quite as large as, say, the Kapaun Pilgrimage, Jones said he has seen the Lord working during the pilgrimage even if the number of walkers is small. One early year, he said, several fellow participants dropped out, leaving the number of pilgrims at just two. Jones walked with that one other man, who was at that point discerning his vocation. That man is today a monk at Silver Stream Priory in Ireland, Jones said. 

“You can never judge the fruit of [a pilgrimage] by the numbers,” he commented.

Founder Gabe Jones, left, speaks to participants at the commencement of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in May 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Founder Gabe Jones, left, speaks to participants at the commencement of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in May 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Jones told CNA that most people he encounters find the idea of pilgrimage very appealing, in part because it is an experience that grounds you in reality in an age dominated by the virtual. 

“The world now, because we’re so digital and you can experience so many things that aren’t real on a screen — a pilgrimage reconnects you with reality. It reconnects you literally with the earth, because you’re walking for miles and miles and the pain that comes with that. You know, the discomfort in your feet and your joints from walking and walking and walking,” he said. 

“You encounter people. You’re walking through street corners, and people come up and say, ‘What are you doing?’ So I think there’s that desire in the human heart for an experience, for action. And I think American Catholics are reengaging with that.”

Men walk through St. Louis during the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019 carrying a wooden cross and a Vatican flag. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Men walk through St. Louis during the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019 carrying a wooden cross and a Vatican flag. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Large pilgrimage groups remain a relatively rare sight on U.S. streets, and Jones said often he gets asked by passersby what they’re “protesting” — which he finds ironic.

“Public witness doesn’t have to be in protest of something. You can do something publicly like this as a witness and as a testimony because of the things you love,” he noted. 

“I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to offer to Our Lord is to say, hey, this beautiful place here is worth a little bit of pain and discomfort to offer up and unite my sufferings with yours.”

Participants kneel in front of the Shrine of St. Joseph at the conclusion of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Participants kneel in front of the Shrine of St. Joseph at the conclusion of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Father Timothy Foy, associate pastor at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in the St. Louis area, is the founder of the Katy Trail Pilgrimage, a roughly 50-mile walk to a handful of Marian churches along a trail that spans almost the entire width of Missouri. Last year’s pilgrimage in October 2023 attracted, at least for portions, approximately 80 people, the largest group they’ve had. 

Foy went on a pilgrimage in Poland in 2014, walking with a large group from Kraków to Częstochowa, the site of a famous Marian shrine. The roughly 70-mile, six-day trek inspired him to do a pilgrimage stateside. 

So a few years later, he and two other priests walked the Katy Trail, essentially the exact route they still use today. The next year, he invited others to join them and continued to put out the invitation annually, even through the pandemic years. 

Father Timothy Foy, left, leads pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Father Timothy Foy, left, leads pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Foy told CNA this week that for many people, the Katy Trail experience is their first exposure to pilgrimage. He said many participants tell him they find the experience rejuvenating. 

“It’s a movement of the spirit. It’s kind of like when you go on retreat, you know, we’re recharging … We’re going to find that solitude with God and letting him help fill up our souls with his presence and kind of recharge and a pilgrimage,” the priest said. 

Foy said he is glad to hear that pilgrimages are growing in popularity and that he is “happy to ride in that wave.”

“With a pilgrimage, you kind of go on the offense. You’re kind of sallying forth into the world,” he said. 

“You have a mission, so you’re never bored. You’re always making progress as long as you’re walking.”

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

‘Know where you’re going’

Will Peterson, founder and president of Modern Catholic Pilgrim (MCP), a U.S. nonprofit that is coordinating the National Eucharistic Pilgrimages, called pilgrimage “one of the oldest forms of prayer in our Church tradition.”

“It speaks to who we are as Catholics … it’s accessible. You don’t need to have an advanced degree or a deep spiritual life to be a pilgrim. You just need to know where you’re going and what intentions you’re bringing to that space,” he said. 

Will Peterson (far right), founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, poses with a group of pilgrims. Courtesy of Will Peterson
Will Peterson (far right), founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, poses with a group of pilgrims. Courtesy of Will Peterson

MCP is a small operation and the National Eucharistic Pilgrimages will be by far the largest events they have coordinated. Peterson opined that pilgrimages are growing in popularity, in part, because many people are struggling to find purpose in life — especially young people.

In the face of this, “pilgrimages are all about purpose: My purpose is to get to this place, to give these intentions to God,” he noted. 

Jonathan Liedl of the National Catholic Register contributed to this story.

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