Timing of pilgrimage's arrival at Wisconsin Marian shrine in Champion called 'providential'

Catholics taking part in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage's visit to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion June 16, 2024, in Champion, Wis., begin a 1.7-mile Eucharistic rosary procession. An estimated 2,000 people turned out for the day's events. (OSV News photo/Sam Lucero)

CHAMPION, Wis. (OSV News) ─ Two days after the U.S. bishops approved a proposal to consider Adele Brise's cause for canonization, the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage arrived at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion June 16. The shrine is home to the Marian apparitions that Brise experienced in 1859.

The timing of both events did not escape Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken, who presented the proposal June 14 during a consultation at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Spring Plenary Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky.

"You can't plan that sort of thing," Bishop Ricken told OSV News after celebrating Mass with an estimated 2,000 people and completing a 1.7-mile Eucharistic rosary procession around the shrine grounds.

"It's totally providential. I didn't know for sure I would be up during this agenda of the bishops' meeting and I hadn't really thought about … doing this National Eucharistic Pilgrimage here," he added. "I hadn't put two and two together, until I was giving the talk to the bishops about Adele. It's amazing how God has all of these things in mind and we just go along and do what we think is right and he's behind it all. The Blessed Mother, too."

The arrival of perpetual pilgrims and their support staff to the shrine in rural Brown County, surrounded by dairy farms and corn fields, was a milestone. It marked the halfway point on their journey of some 800 miles through four states to Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress in July. The Marian Route, one of four pilgrimage routes around the country, is named for the Champion shrine, the first and only approved Marian apparition site in the United States.

Each of the routes -- coming from the north (Marian), east (Seton), south (Juan Diego) and west (Serra) -- has a group of perpetual pilgrims making the journey. The routes will converge July 16 in Indianapolis ahead of the July 17-21 congress, a highlight of the U.S. bishops' National Eucharistic Revival.

The day's events in Champion began with a talk on the Eucharist by Father of Mercy Joseph Aytona, the shrine's rector. Bishop Ricken, joined by diocesan and religious order priests, then celebrated Mass inside the shrine's Mother of Mercy Hall.

In his homily, Bishop Ricken acknowledged the six perpetual pilgrims, who were seated in the front row. "It's such a joy to have them here," he said. "They are a good example of what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus as we bring the good news of the person of Christ in the gift of the Holy Eucharist."

The highlight of the day was the Eucharistic rosary procession that immediately followed Mass.

"We are going to take the Lord around this beautiful (place) and we should be saying, 'Lord, manifest yourself, manifest your power,'" said Bishop Ricken. Referring to the church's declining membership, he said, "The Lord is here to begin to claim his people and his territory back."

"There are so many lost souls, people wandering around depressed, discouraged, locked in their homes, looking at their devices all day long," he continued. "So let's pray for one another. Seeing so many of you being here today is such great testimony to your faith. It gives me great hope that the Lord is touching your life and you want to make a difference; for yourself, your family, your parish, your community."

Near the conclusion of the 1.7-mile Eucharistic rosary procession, Bishop Ricken stopped at Brise's grave, located next to the shrine's Apparition Chapel. He prayed silently and then blessed the grave site.

Several of the perpetual pilgrims told OSV News that the shrine visit was a highlight of their pilgrimage.

Sarah Cahill said that on entering the shrine grounds, one thought came to mind: "This is what heaven must be like, coming in and following the Lord, but being surrounded by the faithful."

Cahill said the first month traveling the Marian Route with other young adults has been special.

"It's been amazing witnessing Jesus encountering everyone we meet," she said. "Even people who don't know him, it's clear that they are attracted to something. It's a roller coaster for us, like being tired and just perseverance, but also the grace of just being with the Eucharist and in his presence all day basically."

Kai Weiss called the shrine "a place of rest and a place of profound peace."

"We've been waiting for this day since the pilgrimage started and even far before that," he said. "We just went into the Apparition Chapel and it was just amazing how peaceful it is. It was immediately recognizable that this is a special place of grace."

Weiss said the route's first half through Minnesota and Wisconsin hasn't been physically challenging "so far."

"What's more challenging is the mental and spiritual aspect of it," he said. "I think Christ Jesus, by spending so much time with him, just really tries to purify us as well as purify our intentions. He wants to see us grow closer to him and then obviously that's sometimes challenging. Our wounds and our difficulties are laid open a lot more clearly than perhaps otherwise. It's been a spiritual challenge, but also a very beautiful one."

With a large stack of prayer intentions in his hands, Matthew Heidenreich said the pilgrims have received thousands of prayer intentions. "We've already filled out like two or three boxes' worth," he said. "It's just a joy to carry so many people's prayers with us and to be able to intercede for them. A lot of times, during a long walk, we will pull out some of the prayer intentions and have those with us."

Heidenreich said being at the shrine "really feels like a day of recollection -- like we are able to look back on everything that has happened so far -- and a celebration. We celebrate all the Lord has done and bring so many of our intentions that we've collected to our Blessed Mother."

Like his fellow perpetual pilgrims, Heidenreich said it was a blessing to experience the shrine.

"I've been looking forward to this since I found out I was on the Marian Route. … I walked into Mother of Mercy Hall and had to take a deep breath," he said. "This (shrine) is a blessing to have in our country, and it's a blessing for us to be able to enter and be received by so many fellow pilgrims here."

Despite having the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage arrive later in June in her home Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Mary Ann Rauworth, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Big Bend made the 140-mile trip north to Champion to attend pilgrimage festivities.

Asked what brought her to the shrine, she responded, "The Eucharist. I'm on fire with the Lord."

She said her encounter with the Eucharistic Lord during the procession was emotional. "Your heart just fills up. You just feel like crying," she said. "I love the Lord and I love this (pilgrimage). Through this Eucharistic encounter, we have to enlighten these people. They don't have any clue. So with this, I'm hoping we're going to wake up more people."

Father Aytona, the shrine's rector, said it was a blessing to have so many people "externally showing their faith by joining in the procession."

"People are coming here by their own initiative to show their Eucharistic devotion, so it's always good," he said. "We have to help each other out and things like this are opportunities, especially to show the world, so to speak, that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist."

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Sam Lucero writes for OSV News from Wisconsin.


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