March 11, 2022

Walks of faith with God lead three pilgrims to life-changing Lents

Conventual Franciscan Father Vincent Petersen leads pilgrimages through nature to open people to God’s presence. (Submitted photo)

Conventual Franciscan Father Vincent Petersen leads pilgrimages through nature to open people to God’s presence. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: The Criterion is inviting our readers to share the approaches, sacrifices and acts of joy and love that have brought them closer to God during Lent. We offer their responses as a way of helping all of us have a more meaningful Lent this year.)

Part three (See part one and part two)

By John Shaughnessy

The idea was to do something different, something that would take advantage of a beautiful location that stretches more than 400 acres across the Indiana countryside, something that would help people turn their hearts toward God while immersing themselves in the scenic setting.

The idea led Conventual Franciscan Father Vincent Petersen to thoughts of Christ praying in nature, to thoughts of the people who through the centuries have walked the Camino, “The Way,” in Spain with the desire to draw closer to God.

And so Father Vincent came up with the idea to lead a five-hour, walking pilgrimage that combines prayer, exercise, contemplation, music and an appreciation of the beauty of nature—a pilgrimage on the grounds of the Mount Saint Francis Center for Spirituality in the southern Indiana community of St. Francis.

Father Vincent views these monthly pilgrimages as a wonderful opportunity to experience a more meaningful Lent.

“The beginning of Lent itself is going into the wilderness, going into a place of vulnerability—making us vulnerable to God,” he says.

“In the wilderness, we discover our limitations, our vulnerabilities. God can do a lot with that. It humbles us. We’re not the center of reality.”

During Lent, Father Vincent will lead a pilgrimage from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 9 that will concentrate on the paschal journey.

“There are more than 400 acres here with a lot of trails, shrines and places of beauty and prayer along the way,” says Father Vincent, the associate retreat director and resident artist at the Center for Spirituality.

“The pilgrimage is not a race. It’s a slow, mindful walk. We stay together. We pray together. Sometimes we walk in silence. At each station, there’s some faith sharing, reflection and music. It’s feeling the goodness of ourselves, the goodness of creation. It’s connecting the season of Lent and new spiritual life and the understanding of God’s light in our lives.”

While Father Vincent hopes people will join him on a pilgrimage, he also encourages people to spend time in nature wherever and whenever they can—praying to God and being open to God’s presence.

“Being in the middle of God’s sanctuary and beauty can be life-changing. It’s good for the body, good for the soul.”

A mother’s journey of faith

As a child, Peggy McCracken rarely got to celebrate her March birthday on its actual date because of her family’s approach to Lent.

“Each year, our family faithfully ‘gave up’ sweets, cake, ice cream, soft drinks and similar treats. But Sundays were exempt, and so my March birthday was always a Sunday event,” she recalls. “I’m not sure waiting a few days for my birthday cake brought me closer to God. What did change my life was taking on more during Lent.”

Her most meaningful Lent came when she was the mother of a child and living in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

“Many years ago, there was a notice in my parish bulletin inviting people to gather each morning at 6:20 for the Liturgy of the Hours to offer Morning Prayer,” she recalls. “Although, the church was on my way to work and the day care, my first reaction to the notice was that it wouldn’t be possible for me to attend. I worried my toddler son would disturb the gathering. A friend said simply, ‘Just try it, Peggy.’

“It appears God wanted me at that prayer group because my son slept peacefully every morning in a nearby pew as I sang, prayed and received the Eucharist.”

When Lent ended that year, the Morning Prayer group continued. Making it a daily part of her life changed her.

She became a lector at Mass, a member of her parish’s bereavement committee, a religious education teacher and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

“The words of the psalms, repeated day after day, month after month, became a part of me,” McCracken says. “The words I studied and prepared as a lector were planted into my bones. The words started becoming part of my thinking and speech.”

She has continued her service to the Church since she moved to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 2010 and became a member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin, serving as a lector and a faith formation teacher.

This March, she will celebrate her birthday later this month and the opportunity to draw closer to Christ. She recommends taking on something new as this Lenten season continues.

“Try the Liturgy of the Hours. Return to the rosary. Join a Bible study. Attend Mass more than once a week. Or consider reading the daily Scripture passages and reflections on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website at

“As we reflect how Jesus took on suffering and the cross for us, perhaps we can draw closer to him by taking on his word.”

Following in Christ’s steps to love

It was a year that marked a turning point in her relationship with Christ, a year when Beth Arnold participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to become a Catholic.

During Lent that year, Arnold decided to give up her “number one vice”—chocolate—viewing it as a small yet important way of drawing closer to Christ.

“Because Jesus has given so much for us, it is but a mere inconvenience for us to walk in his shoes, so to speak, by offering him something of ourselves,” says Arnold, a member of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Danville.

“Each time I was presented with chocolate, it gave me a chance to again reflect on what Jesus has done for each of us. It is amazing what we can live without—if we choose to.”

For Arnold, what’s important is not the small sacrifice we make, but the reason we choose to make it.

“We should feel privileged to try to use something in our life that is very dear to us as an opportunity to reflect on Jesus and his hopes for each of us. Jesus loves all of us. Yes, each of us. And he hopes one day that we will come to him with love.”

Ultimately, Arnold believes, Lent is about love—the love of God for us and our choice to love him in return.

“Lent allows each one of us time to think about Jesus when we choose something to remind us of his love.” †

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