Perpetual Pilgrims of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage stopped at Kinship Community Food Center in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood for a service project on the morning of Saturday, June 22. (Photo by Greta Taxis)

The most significant desire in Kai Weiss’s life is to grow closer to Jesus in the Eucharist and to bring the Blessed Sacrament to others.

After responding to an invitation in a national Catholic newspaper to become a Perpetual Pilgrim, the 28-year-old from Regensburg, Germany, is one of six young adults leading the Marian Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. It has been a transforming experience.

“I am so blessed to be here,” he said when the pilgrimage passed through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee June 18-26. “America has become so polarized, and I am hoping that by traveling with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament we can sanctify and heal the country and bring everyone together.”

The grueling trip began in Bemidji, Minnesota, on May 17, and will culminate in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress in July. The pilgrims walk 10-15 miles per day through all types of weather and terrain. Two seminarians as well as priest chaplains accompany the six Perpetual Pilgrims on the journey.

“Walking has been fairly easy in the Midwest because it is flat,” said Weiss. “But every day is different. We have Mass and adoration and meet people while we are walking. We are encountering Christ along the way. It is an intense trip, but also rewarding to see the enthusiasm in the people we meet.”

Currently residing in Washington, D.C., Weiss is a graduate student at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception and a researcher at the Thomistic Institute. Additionally, he holds a master’s degree in politics from Hillsdale College, where he focused on the political thought of St. Augustine and Pope Benedict XVI.

“Carrying Jesus is a spiritual challenge as it is not easy to spend 10 hours a day adoring Jesus,” he said. “But Jesus is purifying and challenging us.”

On Saturday, June 22, the pilgrims stopped at Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish-St. Casimir Church in Milwaukee. Following Mass, they joined full-time and summer Kinship Community Food Center missionaries and volunteers to serve the needy in the neighborhood.

“This is our service project while we are here,” said Weiss. “We are carrying bags for people, helping them get food and serving them. It is a great opportunity to get to know the people, and that is the whole point of this. The Eucharist calls us to be the Body of Christ so we can become bread to each other.”

After the morning Mass, several Kinship missionaries, including Elizabeth O’Hotzke, offered tours of the Kinship Community Food Center, located in the church basement.

“This is my second year as a full-time intern because I love it so much. Aside from my family, I have never been loved like this before. The people are wonderful,” O’Hotzke said. “We have six full-year interns, which include four women and two men. We also have seven summer interns living with us.”

Full-time interns live in community, which includes room and board. There is a house for the women and one for the men, located within walking distance of Our Lady of Divine Providence-St. Casimir Church. In exchange for a monthly stipend, the interns pray, run the food center operations, participate in meals, and work on Loden’s Urban Farm. They also explore Catholic spirituality, community and social justice, and develop relationships with others in the neighborhood they serve.

“I heard about this from a SEEK retreat and one of the missionaries asked me to come here, and immediately felt at home,” O’Hotzke said. “We all have individual jobs, and work with STRIDE, too, which helps people with crisis assistance, mentoring, housing and employment.”

The pantry serves 90 to 150 families per day from Tuesday through Saturday. The number increased exponentially once the COVID government benefits ended, and the families needed extra assistance, said O’Hotzke.

“In addition to staff and volunteers serving and helping the shoppers, some of our shoppers volunteer, too,” she said. “Cole Compton runs our Urban Farm and works hours on end. We have a dedicated group of volunteers who are called the Urban Farm Team. They are open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.”

Food distribution begins at 8:30 a.m., but a hot breakfast begins around 8. The breakfast is open to shoppers and volunteers and is very popular for those wanting some company in the morning.

The Kinship food pantry is part of Feeding America and the Hunger Task Force. Schools also donate to keep the program operational.

“There are no requirements to come here, except for their zip code. We are also a designated emergency food pantry, so people from any zip code can come here once and then we will help them find a food pantry in their area,” said O’Hotzke. “Regular clients can come here once a month for full shopping, which includes produce, bread, cereal, canned goods, dairy products, meat and other nonperishables. We walk with them while they pick out what they want. They can come in here anytime for bread and produce, though, as we are all about improving nutrition.”