More than 70 young adults from across Michigan learn to receive Christ's shalom during annual hiking, camping pilgrimage
CHEBOYGAN — God is always speaking, but it is much easier to hear him Up North.
A pilgrimage is meant to be a time to put away all the distractions, to focus on one’s relationship with God, and to restore an inner peace, a shalom, that God wills for everyone.
For the 70 young adults who took part in the Michigan Young Adult Hiking and Rafting Pilgrimage at Cheboygan State Park from July 21-23, the three days and two nights in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula was much more than a vacation; it was a chance to re-establish God’s peace in their lives.
“In a pilgrimage, God is leading us away from the comforts of home, so we can draw closer to God,” Fr. Adam Maher, rector of the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw, said during the Friday evening Mass on the shores of Lake Huron with Gaylord Bishop Jeffrey Walsh.
Fr. Maher served as chaplain for the pilgrimage, challenging the young adults of the group to use the time away from the routine and the difficulties they face as a way to reconnect with Christ, who suffered for all humanity.
Fr. Maher and Bishop Walsh offered confessions after Mass when the group gathered at a bonfire for the first night. Fr. Maher led the group in night prayers, emphasizing what pilgrims should focus on during the weekend.
“Use this time as a call away from the lesser loves that espoused you, to lead you to a greater love, a greater life,” Fr. Maher said. “When we give ourselves over to something other than God, we invite envy, anxiety, fear. Let go of something this pilgrimage so we can hold onto Jesus. Amen.”
Fr. Maher emphasized shalom, the Hebrew world for peace. He broke down the syntax of the word as it is written and pronounced in Hebrew, with its literal meaning being the breaking of the authority of chaos in one’s life.
He asked the pilgrims to ponder God’s peace when they visited the National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods in Indian River on Saturday.
“When Christ says, ‘shalom,’ to you, this breaks the authority of chaos in your life,” Fr. Maher said. “Today, gaze upon Jesus in the Eucharist, until he strikes you with that shalom, that gift of peace. Today, you need to be able to receive that peace.”
The pilgrims began Saturday with morning prayer before boarding a bus to take them just south of Cheboygan for an 8.5-mile hike along North Central State Trail to Indian River. Bishop Walsh, welcoming the pilgrims to his diocese, and being an avid outdoorsman himself, joined the pilgrims for the hike, often leading from the front.
Before the hike began, Fr. Maher asked the pilgrims to pick up a rock or a stick to resemble the weight of anxiety they carry in life.
Samuel Wakeman of Resurrection Parish in Lansing said the hike was an intense, but powerful experience, tying the discomfort and pain he felt along the hike with that of Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary.
“I got blisters on my feet, I’m really tired, and I experienced a lot of uncomfortable things I don’t normally experience,” Wakeman told Detroit Catholic after the hike. “But it led to an opportunity to offer all my discomfort to Jesus.”
During the 8.5-mile trek to Indian River, the group was posed reflection questions for the walk and were asked to make the first 15 minutes of each leg of the hike in silence, contemplating God’s beautiful creation that is in abundance Up North, and each person’s place in God’s creation.
“What are the patterns of fear in our lives? That is our reflection on this trip,” Dawn Hausmann, director of young adult ministry for the Diocese of Lansing, asked the pilgrims during the stop.
Hausmann, along with Patrick Howard of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Young Adult Ministry, and Fr. Maher were the organizers of the pilgrimage.
“How much does the Lord have in store for you, when you see all He has done for creation?” Hausmann asked. “What do you want Jesus to show about a fear or anxiety right now in your life? The peace we’ve been talking about, God wants us to abide in Him. We don’t have to work for it, but we do have to show up to learn how to rest in His peace. We can strive to live in His peace.”
The moments of silent contemplation while walking the first 15 minutes of each leg of the hike offered the pilgrims a chance to really reflect on the anxiety they carry, and God’s peace they are seeking.
James Misiak of St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak said the difference between vacation and pilgrimage is what made the weekend experience all the more powerful.
“When I think of a vacation, I think of what would make me comfortable, how many drinks I am bringing, what cabanas am I staying in, or something like that,” Misiak said. “A pilgrimage is about growing closer to God, so it’s not about comfort. In fact, some discomfort should be there to help bring you closer to God. It gives you a chance to offer your discomfort up to the Lord.”
Whether it was sleeping in a tent, going days without a shower, completing a long hike while carrying spare clothes for rafting, rocks and woodchips getting stuck in shoes or just spending long hours out in the sun, the physical challenges helped the pilgrims grow closer to God — using material conditions to grow the spiritual condition.
“When I think of all of this bringing you closer to God, it could seem materialistic, using physical challenges to get closer to God,” Misiak said. “But having a comfortable bed, having the ability to shower, not being bitten by bugs or something, that is being materialistic. By taking away those comforts, getting back to the basics, I think it gets rid of the distractions, gives you a lot of time to focus on God.”
The hike ended in Indian River, where the pilgrims set up Mass in a park pavilion, and Bishop Walsh celebrated the Eucharist and called upon St. Mary Magdalene — whose feast day was July 22 — as an example for young adults to follow.
“Mary Magdalene shows us the kerygma; people who have an encounter with the Lord want to go out and tell everyone,” Bishop Walsh said in his homily. “Mary Magdalene had received the good news and wanted to share the good news, and in sharing the good news, she grew closer to God. Today, you who are here in this diocese, who have traveled from all over our state, are bearing witness to Christ. You are living the kerygma.”
After Mass, the group processed with the Eucharist through town — Indian River happened to be having a town fair that day — to the National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods.
In the vein of Bishop Walsh’s homily, the procession allowed young adults from all corners of Michigan to give witness to Christ and the Real Presence in the Eucharist as they made their way to the shrine.
“The Eucharistic procession was a big joy,” said Monica Vitale, of St. Joseph Parish in Lake Orion. “From time to time, with the way I approach things, I tend to be scared and hide in proclaiming God; I almost feel ashamed of it in different ways. But then I thought, I need to grow in this. I’m a Christian; I need to proclaim Him, and I want to show that love for Him.”
The Eucharistic procession through Indian River ended at the Shrine of the Cross on the Woods, where Bishop Walsh led the group up the 28 steps — tradition states Jesus walked up 28 steps to receive judgment from Pontius Pilate — to the foot of the 55-foot crucifix, the second-largest crucifix in the world.
There, the pilgrims had the chance to adore the Eucharist and take in the beauty of their surroundings.
After a brief sermon and reflection from Fr. Maher, it was time for some recreation, so the group walked to Big Bear Adventures for a rafting trip down the Sturgeon River, the fastest-flowing river in the Lower Peninsula.
The pilgrims ventured back to Cheboygan State Park for some time on the beach in Lake Huron before sunset and another evening of night prayer with Fr. Maher, along with time for reflections on the challenges and joys people experienced along the hike.
“I have been on this pilgrimage before, and it was really good,” Vitale said. “But this time I was really able to enter into more silence, and it really transformed the event for me. I came into this way more anxious, and I think God really worked with that, helping me through my anxiousness and helping me focus on how I best can find Him.”
It was a time of contemplation, of physical strain, of spiritual reflection, of self-assessment. It was anything but a vacation.
It was a million miles better.
“Father really called us out right in the beginning, and it really helped me keep my focus,” Vitale said. “Honestly, I got more out of it than just a vacation. I’m leaving with a more joyful, peaceful presence.”
Young adult Pilgrimage