ST. FRANCIS — At the end of July, young adults are invited to commemorate the Year of Mercy – and show solidarity with Pope Francis and those gathered in Kraków for World Youth Day – in a special way by making a 50-mile pilgrimage on foot from Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in St. Francis to the Holy Hill National Shrine in Hubertus.

It is the third year for such a pilgrimage, led by Fr. Luke Strand, vocation director at the seminary, but the 2012 and 2013 pilgrimages were smaller and focused more on encouraging vocations, with pilgrims consisting of seminarians and young men discerning the priesthood.[su_pullquote align=”right”]For more information on the 2016 Pilgrimage of Mercy, contact the Vocation Office at or (414) 747-6437, like Think Priest on Facebook, or visit[/su_pullquote]

This year’s “Pilgrimage of Mercy” had 19 registrants –men and women – as of the end of June and has been included in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ official list of stateside celebrations to coincide with World Youth Day.

The pilgrimage will “focus primarily on an encounter of the Father’s mercy,” said Fr. Strand in an email to the Catholic Herald, and will also be an opportunity to ‘unite in prayer’ with Pope Francis and pilgrims from around the world, including the group of 45 youth and young adults from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee being led to Kraków by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.

“We’ll be walking together, trying to offer the young adults of Milwaukee a place for authentic Catholic community and authentic Catholic prayer,” said Michael Malucha, an archdiocesan seminarian who is a senior in St. Joseph College at Loyola University in Chicago. This summer he is interning in the archdiocese’s vocations office with Fr. Strand and is helping coordinate the pilgrimage.

Walkers participating in the 2013 50-mile pilgrimage head toward their final destination of Holy Hill. This year’s pilgrimage, led by Fr. Luke Strand, vocation director, is being called the “Pilgrimage of Mercy” and coincides with World Youth Day in Poland. (Submitted photo courtesy Michael Malucha)

Walkers participating in the 2013 50-mile pilgrimage head toward their final destination of Holy Hill. This year’s pilgrimage, led by Fr. Luke Strand, vocation director, is being called the “Pilgrimage of Mercy” and coincides with World Youth Day in Poland. (Submitted photo courtesy Michael Malucha)

The pilgrims will leave Saint Francis de Sales Seminary on the morning of Thursday, July 28, after Mass, stopping at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist for lunch. Over the next two days, the group will continue on foot, spending the night in other churches along the way and making stops at more than 20 chapels and shrines, arriving at Holy Hill for Sunday morning Mass. Afterward, a bus will take the pilgrims back to Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

The pilgrims will be encouraged to adhere to Fr. Strand’s “four rules for all pilgrimages I lead,” he joked. “They are – in no particular order: 1) no complaining! 2) no complaining! 3) if confession is offered, go; and 4) if you see a bathroom, use it!”

Malucha participated in Fr. Strand’s 2013 pilgrimage, when he was living at the John Paul II House of Discernment at St. Robert Parish, Shorewood. The 2013 Marquette University High School graduate called the pilgrimage experience a wonderful opportunity for “fraternity, prayer and communion” as well as a means for Catholic vocations to have a “visible presence” in the Milwaukee area.

“People were honking (as they passed us on the road), and we made it on WISN 12 one night because it was so hot that day,” he said. “Fr. Luke was in his collar, marching all the way along; we had the Vatican flag and things identifying us along the way.”

Though pilgrimages of this nature are physically demanding, Malucha said they mirror the interior struggle for holiness.

“Holiness is demanding, and humility is demanding, and to enter into the spiritual life (is demanding),” he said. “You’re tired at the end of the day because you’ve been walking, but in the tiredness and the weariness from travel, I think that offers a really beautiful opportunity to just be with the Lord in prayer for the night. It’s this perfect avenue. And certainly journeying with other people … there’s something really beautiful, too, about who we are as a Catholic community. We don’t have to do this alone.”

Fr. Strand noted that pilgrimages are an ancient practice of the church and quoted Pope Benedict XVI who, during his 2010 pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, said “to go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”

“It is precisely in these (difficult) conditions that we will be led out of ourselves by taking up the cross, and discover again our identity as his beloved sons and daughters,” said Fr. Strand.

Participants can register at any time before July 26, and young adults unable to join the pilgrims for the entire four days are welcome to participate in various portions of the walk or in evening fellowship and prayer.

Along the way, pilgrims will be posting updates about their whereabouts to the Think Priest Facebook page so the public can follow their journey.

“While on the walk, our pilgrims will certainly have opportunities to both carry out and receive the spiritual and corporal works of mercy,” said Fr. Strand. “However, even more fundamental is the opportunity on this pilgrimage – through the sacraments, evenings of formation, fraternity, and sacrifice – to encounter the Father’s mercy. It is through this encounter that we can begin to pursue a life of holiness, ensuring that a joyful witness to the Gospel will indeed be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, starting first here in our city of Milwaukee.”