Thousands of the faithful around the Archdiocese of Milwaukee joined the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s Marian Route from June 18-26, including June 23’s procession from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. (Photo courtesy of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary)

“Welcome to Jesus Christ Fest 2024,” said Archbishop Jerome E Listecki to a standing-room crowd of worshippers at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Sunday, June 23. “We are gathered together because of the one who offered his life for us, he who is divine and reminds us of God’s presence in our lives.”

Following the Mass, concelebrated by Auxiliary Bishop James T. Schuerman and several other priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, there was a period of Eucharistic Adoration before continuing the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage through the streets of Milwaukee.

Thousands lined the sidewalks, praying Rosaries as they walked all or part of the nearly seven miles from the Cathedral to Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Stanislaus, the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Immaculate Conception, and concluding at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

Dennis Schwartz, a member of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, said he wanted to attend the Eucharistic procession with his family, stating they are marching together for peace and unity in the world.

“I am here for Jesus in the Eucharist, and I really hope people have an awakening,” he said. “Unity is a big thing. We try all these new things to achieve unity and the only way to achieve it is through Jesus.”

Bonnie Ostrenga, a member of St. Jerome in Oconomowoc, felt it imperative to attend the Mass and Eucharistic procession.

“I am doing this to be closer to Jesus. Last year, I went to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and did the (Eucharistic pilgrimage) to St. Charles in Hartland last week. I felt like I was back in Israel,” she said. “I am excited to see that there are so many people who came to the Mass and the procession. I want the world to know about Jesus.”

For David Kober, a practicing Catholic who attends various parishes in the city, this pilgrimage held special significance.

“Sometimes I do pilgrimages with my mother. There is a Polish one that goes from Chicago to Indiana and about three to five thousand come,” he said. “She is in Poland now and this seems like a good, holy, faith-based event to go in honor of her. It is more than just going to church. I think about the younger people and hope that they see there is something wonderful about being Catholic. We need Jesus now more than ever.”

Alexandria Buchlmayer, a member of St. Anthony in Pewaukee, agreed with Kober. She said she is walking the Eucharistic pilgrimage for her Eucharistic Spouse.

“I am discerning with the passionate nuns and to see these hundreds of people following our Lord in the Eucharistic process brings me back to Jesus and the 5,000, and how the people would follow him through the streets,” she said. “I love that. I am planning to go to the Eucharistic Congress next month with some of my classmates from Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Indiana, where I just graduated in May.”

In his homily, Archbishop Listecki spoke of many times in life when individuals may be fearful, such as various occasions during the 14 times he traveled back and forth to Rome throughout the four years he attended The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome.

“I am traveling during the winter. I am in a collar, so I am sitting in the seat on the plane and a nice lady is sitting next to me. We have turbulence, not for a few minutes, but for three hours. The plane is dipping 100 feet, coming back up, dipping another 50 feet, and coming back up,” he explained. “I have my arms on the armrests and as the plane continued to dip and climb, the lady looked at me and said, ‘Oh, Father. Are we in trouble? This is terrible, isn’t it?’ I looked at her and said, ‘Oh no, it is like this all the time, don’t worry about it, don’t be fearful.’ However, if she had looked down at my armrests, she would have seen my white knuckles and heard me saying the Act of Contrition several times.”

Spinning out of control on black ice, the fear as the car on a rollercoaster drops to the bottom of the track and it feels as if your heart is in your throat, or sailing in a boat when the sea comes up, hitting the boat with monstrous waves — these are times when you know you aren’t in control, said Archbishop Listecki.

“The fear grabs us, immobilizes us, and in the boat of life, we are constantly confronted with those fears of pain, anxiety and loss as well as fears of our own mortality and where do we go,” he said. “There is a wonderful picture by a painter by the name of (Eugene) Delacroix, who painted this scene from St. Mark’s Gospel of the disciples in the boat with Jesus during a storm. Interestingly, if you look at that painting, some disciples are yelling, screaming (or) holding the side of the boat or the rudder trying to make it straight. Then there was a disciple resting his head on Jesus’ chest in the midst of that fear. Jesus says to the others, ‘Why are you fearful?’”

Despite the many fears we face in life, it is important to remember that Jesus is with us, explained Archbishop Listecki. He added that we should embrace that God who is part of us will always be there for us and to lean on him.

“He gave himself to us in the Eucharist; he gave us his presence and he promised to be with us for all time until he comes again to claim us. He will always be there for us in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and if we focus our attention on him, we can calm the fears that the world presents,” he said. “We must hold on to the great mystery that is present in the Eucharist. It is one of the great mysteries given to us as a Church, and it represents his sacrifice on the Cross. In that sacrifice, he then empowers his priests to be able to consecrate to make sure that his flesh is given to us in the form of bread and his blood is given to us in the form of wine. We can commune with Christ and take that Christ out into the world to proclaim him to others because that is what we are called to do.”