Sacred Heart

Catholic Church

Imlay City, Michigan  Tel: (810) 724-1135

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Fr. Paul Ward


Sat. & Sun., Aug. 12 & 13, 2017
19th Sunday of Ord. Time, Cycle A


Report on the Trailblazers Pilgrimage


   So many exciting things are always going on in our parish. And as we have just returned from the Trailblazers pilgrimage, I thought it would be best to share some of our experiences with the parish. Otherwise, I’d have other good options – today’s reading from Kings about Elijah’s encounter with God is one of my favorite scripture passages on contemplative prayer; and we also have to discuss, soon, the August apparition of our Lady in Fatima. So many things!

   First, some details of parish life. I begin []. I wish to point out that these weeks in August have been a real boost for all the young souls in our parish family, for not only did the Trailblazers have their pilgrimage, but also the children had the Catholic Catechism Camp, which focused this year on Our Lady of Fatima. Then there’s the smaller number of souls who have taken upon themselves the promise of 5 Memorares a day for the success of the Marian Catechist formation center in Wisconsin, under the care of the admirable Cardinal Burke – if you have made the commitment, please see it through to the end; and if you missed some days, don’t give up for that reason. Please do not fail to attend Mass on Tuesday, a Holy Day of Obligation; there is no 8am Mass here that morning, but there is a 10am funeral, which does satisfy the obligation. The evening Masses are scheduled to help families attend Mass after work. Please also keep in your prayers two fine young couples whose marriages will be celebrated this fall, to the great joy of the whole parish. Also, please reserve some time on Sunday, Sept. 10, when we’ll have our annual parish picnic after the Masses.

   Now to our adventure.

   Trailblazers started in 2002, when Pope St. John Paul II visited Toronto for his last World Youth Day. The youth wanted to do more pilgrimages after that, and so since then we have gone to various World Youth Days in Germany, Spain and Australia, and other youth pilgrimages to places such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the place of Marian Apparition in Champion, Wisconsin, locations of the martyrdom of the first missionaries and saints of America in Ontario and New York, and this time we went to visit the mission lands of Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga, the first bishop of the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, and an amazing missionary both while he was a priest and still as a bishop.

   His mission lands covered some 80,000 square miles, and was mostly on the shore of Lake Superior. He traveled on horse and boat, canoe and bark-wood ship, but covered many hundreds, nay thousands, of miles during his lifetime on his own feet, even in the winter. For this he became nick-named the “snow-shoe priest.” Full of prayer and self-denial, his great faith and confidence in God propelled him relentlessly to spread Christ’s gifts of salvation, and his holy Catholic Church, to as many souls as he could, no matter what the cost. So, into his lands we went.

   Our journey led us to do a lap around the upper peninsula, starting and finishing the circle at the beautiful structure of the Mackinac Bridge. Our first stop was at a small chapel he built on a large inland lake, just off the Lake Michigan (or southern) side of the U.P., called Indian Lake. That afternoon, there were two fatal accidents on MI-2, and an escapee from a correctional facility at Escanaba, so we were seriously detained – not a preferred way to begin a long trip. Arriving at the chapel at 5pm instead of 2pm, the person who was there to greet us locked it up and left. So there we stood at the first destination, an authentic Baraga chapel, unable to have mass, impeded by a padlock on the door. “What are we to do?”, I asked. One of the pilgrims, surprisingly, said, “I brought my lock-picking kit!” So, naturally, we broke in and had Mass. I think it can be legitimately argued that this did not constitute breaking and entering; or at least I hope so. The next day we drove to the Porcupine Mountains, and after two full days of driving we still had not left Michigan’s borders.

   And so we began something like 1500 miles of pilgrimage, 75 or so of it done on foot or in canoes, over the next days. We enjoyed the Porcupine Mountains, Eagle Harbor where I had the privilege to offer Mass with one of Venerable Baraga’s stoles, Copper Harbor just around the corner from there, Calumet and Lake Lindon who are graced with astoundingly beautiful parish churches, Assinins and L’Anse where Venerable Baraga had some of his most beloved and successful Indian missions, Marquette where the holy man is buried in a public place in the cathedral, and then to the east side of the peninsula to little lakes and gorgeous woods; all the way down to the Tahquamenon Falls, canoeing down the Tahquamenon River, Sault Ste. Marie where he had the first see of his new Diocese before he moved it to Marquette, the Fr. Marquette memorial at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, and Cross Village in the far north of the Lower Peninsula where he had is first, and extremely successful, Indian Mission.

   Twice we were able to touch Venerable Baraga’s relics, once in Eagle Harbor when we could venerate his priestly stole, and again in Marquette, where Lenora McKeen, who leads the Baraga Association, let us handle and admire a collection of excellent relics. May his intercession bring us many blessings and favors!

   Our trip included some cultural experiences as well. Not only could we admire God’s Country in all its stunning beauty, mountain, wood, falls, coasts and rivers, but we enjoyed special places like Pictured Rocks, Fayette Village, the Sault Locks and Cross in the Woods.

   Every day the youth had Mass and adoration, sometimes way out in the woods in our isolated camp sites. Our portable chapel was so beautiful, that it was, I dare say, more beautiful that many a parish church in the Archdiocese! Adoration of the blessed sacrament, in a dignified liturgical manner, way out in the wild at the rising of the sun, can be an extraordinarily beautiful experience. Every day confession and spiritual direction was offered, and the youth prayed their rosary and divine mercy chaplet, and morning and evening prayers from the liturgy of the hours.

   Evening talks concluded most of the days, where we conversed with the youth about things to help them grow in the love of God, such as the steps of love as discussed by St. Francis de Sales, the threat of the decay of love by sin, then the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, and so on. Each day one of the youths themselves spoke for five minutes of some aspect of Venerable Baraga, such as his younger years, his languages, his courage, his interaction with the Indian cultures and so many stories of his adventures. And we finished each day around a campfire with an examination of conscience, our novena prayer in group to Venerable Baraga, and the singing of the Salve to our Lady.

   The spirit of joy and friendship among the youth was exemplary. So many strangers along the way praised and encouraged the youth, seeing them and learning about what they were doing. We received hospitality from a variety of priests and laity, and occasionally free food. As for food, Mrs. Josie Coates provided delightful and nutritious meals along the way, making her a favorite pilgrim among the youths – even though she kept her portable kitchen in order with the ever-menacing threat of getting whacked with her spoon. An idle threat, for as far as I know, no one came home with any welts!

   We had superb chaperones, who gave excellent example of joy, friendliness and devotion during the trip. So much did they enjoy the trip, that I was worried that the parents might get more out of hand than the youth, so I appointed one of the older young pilgrims to be the chaperone of the chaperones! However, I’m not sure it did any good…

   A relentless, cold rain beat down on us from evening to mid-morning in Copper Harbor, but the buoyant spirit of the young pilgrims was not crushed, and they carried the cross like real troopers. Apparently, there was another loud, hard storm one night, but I was the only one who slept through it like a baby. There is discussion, by the way, as to who was wearing who out, I the young pilgrims or they me!

   The youth are in the process of preparing a DVD which is part slide-show, part video interviews, with the beautiful and the holy, the profound and the humorous, which we will show on some weekend to the whole parish, so you can see and hear for yourselves some of what we experienced. [Say thanks to benefactors.]

   May God bless these young souls, and make the fruit of this pilgrimage last, both as regards their love for God, as well as their love for neighbor. I am so glad every one of the pilgrims and chaperones came on the trip. May Mary pray for us always, Amen!



















Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Librevia Editrice Vaticana


Vatican Website






Archives of Homilies on Elijah during Lent 2016

Online FlipBook






Archives of Homilies on the New English Translation