Pilgrims take prayer on the road for Walk to Mercy in Hancock County

Father Tom Otto heard confessions and talked with pilgrims as they made the Walk to Mercy on Sept. 24. The pilgrimage covered 17 miles of Hancock County roads, starting in Dallas City and ending at the Holy Door at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Nauvoo. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

NAUVOO — First came the Holy Door and prayers of thanksgiving inside Sts. Peter and Paul Church.

Then the pilgrims on the Walk to Mercy sought out shade, water and a place take off their shoes as they celebrated the completion of their 17-mile journey from Dallas City. Some had developed blisters, while others contended with muscle cramps and heat exhaustion.

The prayer intentions they carried in their hearts arrived in good shape, however.

walk-3-web“We all had different reasons for coming,” said LeAnn Neubauer of Immaculate Conception in Monmouth, who walked with her father, Mark Blindt of St. Patrick in Raritan. “It was nice to share that with each other.”

Blindt, for example, offered up his suffering for Msgr. Greg Ketcham, who once served as parochial vicar at their parishes and is currently undergoing treatment for brain cancer. He is now pastor at St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington and St. Mary in Downs.

“He’s been through a lot lately. This is nothing compared to what he’s going through,” Blindt told The Catholic Post.

Neubauer said she was sure their bodies would remind them of some “delayed penances” in the days to come, but said that was part of making a pilgrimage.

They knew what to expect.

AN EXPERIENCE OF LIFE

“A lot of things happen on pilgrimage, a lot of unexpected things,” Father Tom Otto, parochial vicar for the Monmouth and Raritan parishes, told the group of nearly 30 as they prepared to start walking early on Sept. 24. The journey started with prayer and a blessing in front of Sacred Heart Church in Dallas City.

“There will be joy, there will be suffering, there will be weariness, there will be excitement — all of those are experiences of a pilgrimage,” he said. “It is sort of meant to be a small experience of life.”

While it would require a lot of physical effort, the real work of a pilgrimage is spiritual, Father Otto explained.

Kris Pilkington of Immaculate Conception Parish in Carthage was the first pilgrim to complete the Walk to Mercy and go through the Holy Door at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Nauvoo. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Kris Pilkington of Immaculate Conception Parish in Carthage was the first pilgrim to complete the Walk to Mercy and go through the Holy Door at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Nauvoo. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“As we focus on our destination of Nauvoo and the Holy Door, we really think about our life as a journey and focus on the destination of our life, which is heaven,” he said.

The Year of Mercy event was developed and organized by Connect, the young adult group at Immaculate Conception in Monmouth. Members also coordinate Theology on Tap there, help with vespers in Advent and Lent, and decorate the altars for the Corpus Christi procession at the parish picnic each year.

It took all of them to put together the Walk to Mercy, which involved getting approval from Msgr. Thomas Mack, their pastor, and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, the cities of Dallas City and Nauvoo, and township authorities. The group also arranged to have portable toilets every mile and a half, plenty of bottled water available, cars to take pilgrims ahead to the next stop when they got tired or overheated, and a bus to transport them back to their cars in Dallas City.

More water and a shady place to have lunch were offered by Cathy and Randy Bergmeier, members of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Nauvoo. While the pilgrims rested their feet in the cool grass of their large front lawn, Cathy invited some of them to share their stories of faith and encouraged them to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.

Father Thomas Szydlik, parochial vicar of the Nauvoo parish, was on hand to welcome the first pilgrims to arrive at the Holy Door and made sure they had what they needed.

IN TUNE WITH GOD’S MERCY

Along the road, Father Otto visited with people and heard confessions when asked. While the group soon became separated with some walking faster than others or running the route, everyone waited at Sts. Peter and Paul until the last pilgrims arrived so they could say together the prayers leading to the plenary indulgence attached to entering through the Holy Door.

Also accompanying the pilgrims and offering encouragement and spiritual support was Brother Benedict of the Community of St. John. He gave a short meditation on mercy as the day came to an end, reminding them that as they continue their pilgrimage to heaven they could count on the Blessed Mother, the saints and especially Jesus to help them walk in love.

Despite the changing terrain, road surfaces and weather, pilgrims making the Walk to Mercy through Hancock County kept going. This group received encouragement and spiritual support from Brother Benedict of the Community of St. John. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Despite the changing terrain, road surfaces and weather, pilgrims making the Walk to Mercy through Hancock County kept going. This group received encouragement and spiritual support from Brother Benedict of the Community of St. John. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

The day was just what Carol Holland, a trustee at St. Bernard in Bushnell, was looking for.

“I’m at a point in my life where I really needed to do something spiritual for myself. This just called to me,” she said as she walked down the gravel road next to Melinda Rauscher of St. Paul in Macomb.

“I think we’re all more in tune with God’s mercy right now,” she said, noting that this year has made people aware of the merciful work that Jesus did and look at how we can reach out to the people around us.

Tom Sienkewicz, who teaches a course on sacred places at Monmouth College, encouraged his students to make the Walk to Mercy with him and five of them did. He had some experience — he walked the Camino de Santiago this spring, which took him 500 miles through France and Spain.

“In the larger picture, I want students to understand that doing a pilgrimage like this is a metaphor for life,” said Sienkewicz, who is Catholic. “We’re all on a pilgrimage from the day we’re born until the day we die.”

Like anything that happens, people can choose how they’re going to react to various situations, Neubauer said. Will they “drudge along” or offer it up to Mary and Jesus in prayer?

“A lot of times, that turns your whole perspective around because you don’t feel so helpless,” she said. “You’re not in it for no reason.”

That was good to keep in mind during the Walk to Mercy, Neubauer told The Post.

“This is not for no reason, and we probably won’t know immediately what the fruit of this is,” she said.

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