July 7, 2006

Retirement Supplement

‘A spiritual retreat on wheels’:
Seniors hop on board for archdiocesan pilgrimage

By Mary Ann Wyand

“A spiritual retreat on wheels.”

That’s how Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general, describes a pilgrimage.

During their retirement years, a growing number of Catholics from central and southern Indiana are enjoying archdiocesan pilgrimages to Marian shrines and other holy places in the United States and Europe with Msgr. Schaedel and Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein.

In May, the archbishop led a group of pilgrims to Poland to visit places that were special to the late Pope John Paul II.

Carolyn Noone, associate director of special events for the archdiocese, has helped plan itineraries for domestic and overseas pilgrimages for 11 years.

“We’ve gone on pilgrimages to Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland and Israel,” Noone said. “In this country, we’ve visited monasteries, churches and other Catholic destinations in St. Louis, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown, Ky.”

The majority of pilgrims are senior citizens, she said, because they have the time to travel for 10 to 14 days.

“Senior citizens nowadays are extremely active,” Noone said. “They are healthier, they are very fit and they spend a lot of time traveling. Their children are grown, and they have time to go and see many places. When they go on pilgrimage, they relate stories to the other pilgrims about spiritual experiences they have had and spiritual places they have visited. It’s wonderful to listen to their stories.”

Noone said it’s easy for elderly people to participate in archdiocesan pilgrimages because all the travel details are arranged for them.

“Their transportation, lodging and meals are taken care of,” she said. “We have occasional free time when the pilgrims can go in smaller groups to lunch or to shop for souvenirs, but for the most part everything is planned for them.”

The archdiocese plans a meeting for the pilgrims in advance, Noone said, so they can meet other pilgrims and ask questions about the pilgrimage.

Questions range from how to exchange money to whether they need a visa or an inoculation to what type of clothing to bring and how to pack for overseas travel, she said. “They receive their tickets and the itinerary, and see pictures of some of the destinations.”

The pilgrims start each day by praying the rosary on the bus, she said, and they participate in daily Mass at a variety of beautiful churches.

“We stay together as a group,” Noone said, “and that is one of the things that is very comforting for people. Everyone feels safe, comfortable and secure. And every place that we have ever gone, we found that many people there speak English.”

Depending on the itinerary and papal schedule, pilgrims often have an opportunity to see the pope in St. Peter’s Square.

Archdiocesan pilgrims also enjoy meeting Archbishop Buechlein and Msgr. Schaedel, she said. “Normally, people wouldn’t have an opportunity to get to know the archbishop and vicar general as their spiritual leaders and also as new friends. They comment on how wonderful it is to spend relaxing time with them, and how much of a difference it makes to have them as their spiritual leaders on the pilgrimages.”

Pilgrims also meet the leaders of seminaries and pastors of historic churches where they go for Mass, she said. “They’re always so happy to greet us and to have visitors. They’re proud to show us their shrines and to tell us about why they are such special places.

“Whether they are domestic or international, pilgrimages are truly life-changing,” Noone said, “especially when we visit the seat of our Catholicism at the Vatican. It changes your life.”

Noone said she loves to visit holy sites in Europe, but the Holy Land is one of her favorite pilgrimage destinations.

“After walking in the footsteps of Christ in Israel, a person will never be the same because everything we believe has become real,” she said. “We have walked in his footsteps. We were able to see where Christ was baptized, the garden where he prayed before he was crucified and the Upper Room where he taught the disciples how to pray. Nothing in my whole life has ever affected me like the pilgrimage to Israel.”

(For information about archdiocesan pilgrimages and the next pilgrimage to the shrines of Chicago on July 17-19, call Carolyn Noone at 317-236-1428 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1428.)


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