May 5, 2017

Good Friday pilgrimage helps linked parishes ‘grow and thrive’

Members of the linked St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Liberty and St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville pose in front of St. Bridget Church after completing a walking pilgrimage between the churches on Good Friday, April 14. (Submitted photo)

Members of the linked St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Liberty and St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville pose in front of St. Bridget Church after completing a walking pilgrimage between the churches on Good Friday, April 14. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

It was mid-morning on Good Friday as Father Dustin Boehm stood on a bridge over Brookville Lake and addressed 53 members of St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Liberty and St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville.

“We renewed our baptismal promises, recalling who we’re called to be and how God created us to be in his Son,” says Father Boehm. “The direct effects of the cost our Lord paid, we’re baptized because of that.”

On that note, the group set off on foot on a nearly 10-mile pilgrimage between the two Connersville Deanery parishes. As with all pilgrimages, the journey was spiritual, says Father Boehm.

But this particular journey had an additional purpose: to draw together members of two parishes which became linked in February 2016 through the archdiocese’s Connected in the Spirit planning process. As linked parishes, the faith communities share resources as well as a priest.

The idea for the pilgrimage was conceived during a liturgy committee planning meeting in December.

The committee was discussing Holy Week, says Father Boehm.

“We knew that Holy Thursday [Mass] was going to be held at St. Gabriel, and Good Friday [service] was going to be at St. Bridget,” he says.

That was when James Jerome “J.J.” Huber, a member of St. Gabriel Parish, proposed the idea of a walking pilgrimage from St. Gabriel to St. Bridget prior to the Good Friday service.

“I was kind of half joking,” says Huber, 25, who has been accepted as a new seminarian for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. “But Father’s eyes got wide, and he said, ‘Yeah! We need to do that!’ ”

Father Boehm says he saw the idea as “a way for [members of the two parishes] to grow together, not just be thrown together.”

And there was the beauty of traveling to a town called Liberty, he says, “which on Good Friday meant a lot more than just entering the town limits.”

The 34-year-old priest, who was ordained in 2011, is familiar with pilgrimage journeys, having taken part in several himself, including walking the centuries-old, 850-mile trek through Europe to Santiago de Compestela in Spain.

He describes three spiritual aspects of making a pilgrimage, noting that first is the component of suffering.

“Walking nine-and-a-half miles isn’t easy,” he says. “So you enter a little into the suffering of the Lord’s walk to Calvary. ...

“[But] even in the midst of that suffering there’s [the] joy” of getting to know fellow pilgrims, and knowing the end result of the resurrection, he says, explaining the second spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage.

The third spiritual aspect, he says, is that “at some point you want to be done, to be at the end, but you’re not yet there. So what do you do in that moment? Keep walking forward with joy, and ask for God’s grace.”

The spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage was the focus of the second half of the journey, when Father Boehm requested the pilgrims walk in silence and meditate upon Christ’s passion.

“That was around noon,” he says. “By that time, our Lord would have been hanging on the cross.”

But the first portion of the pilgrimage provided the opportunity for members of the two parishes to pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary out loud, and to mingle and get to know each other.

“It was absolutely awesome, just awesome,” says Huber. “Any sort of time you’ve got a group of people together on some sort of mission, go through some kind of hardship together, that strengthens bonds. Walking nine-and-a-half miles in the sun will join anyone! The sense of solidarity was really big.”

St. Bridget parishioner and catechist Lisa Goecke agreed.

She says she and her daughter were discussing a family member’s involvement in the live Stations of the Cross the parishes were conducting at St. Bridget after the Good Friday service.

“The family in front of us that goes to St. Gabriel overheard our conversation,” she says. “They had a family member involved in it, too. So we talked to them for a while. It was nice to get to know each other.”

At the midway point, the mother of seven was grateful for the owner of an auto dealership who opened his doors for the group to use its restroom. Father Boehm and Huber, who had walked the route together on St. Patrick’s Day to gauge how long it would take, had mentioned the Good Friday pilgrimage to the owner.

“He’s not Catholic, but he opened his doors for us,” says Goecke. “His little girl had water for us. It was inspiring to know there are a lot of good people in the area.”

By this time on the nearly 10-mile journey “you could start to feel it,” she says. “Father said this is nothing compared to what Jesus went through.

“I know it doesn’t compare, but it was an eye opener. I’m sure people [driving by] looked at us funny, but I’m sure [Christ] had the same kind of reactions, people staring at him. It was the most wonderful Good Friday I’ve ever had, and I think a lot of people felt the same.”

Josh Marszalek, a member of St. Gabriel Parish, says it was especially important that the pilgrimage was to St. Bridget, which at 67 households is less than 10 percent the size of St. Gabriel.

As a member of the parish pastoral council, he says they are already “finishing up” the linking process and now “trying to establish between the two parishes what the common vision is going forward. We’re trying to figure out how to not just go through the motions and be stagnant. We want to move forward.”

Marszalek has been touched by the linking process in a personal way. He recounts how St. Gabriel was hosting a fundraiser to support an organization that researches a rare neurological disorder his daughter suffers from.

“Without anyone asking, [members from St. Bridget] just jumped in and started contributing to the effort. It was a great success, made greater by their help.”

Marszalek admits that as a father of two and with the medical attention his daughter requires, “quiet meditation time is rare.

“[The pilgrimage] was a nice time to really get in touch with those three days [of the triduum]. I don’t think my Easter would have been as good if I didn’t have that time.”

For Huber, he sees the success of both the pilgrimage and the linking process in the youth ministry he helps coordinate.

“In high school, [the youths] were mortal enemies,” he says, referring to the rivalry between the high schools the youths of each parish attend.

But through joint activities and gatherings, Huber says “now they’re brothers and sisters in Christ. We’ve gotten to see the youths grow closer. Of anybody, they already had their own groups, but it’s really cool to see them meet outside of the county.”

More than 20 youths from the parishes joined in the Good Friday pilgrimage. As a youth ministry activity on Holy Thursday, they watched The Passion of the Christ.

“We went over the movie [they watched] the night before, why Jesus had to suffer the way he did,” says Huber of the youths during the first portion of the walk. “They asked questions while we were walking. It was great for them.”

The forward movement and success of the three-hour pilgrimage parallels the journey Father Boehm sees of the linking process of St. Bridget and St. Gabriel parishes.

“Our parishes need one another,” he says. “We’re starting to see that … starting to see how this is better, how we’re going to be better for it. Our Lord will be better served for [the parishes being linked], so what our Lord calls us to in our various ministries will be much more effective.

“We’re not just surviving together—we’re beginning to grow and thrive together.” †

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