September 29, 2018 dawned crisp and bright, a perfect day for pilgrimage. The place was St. Ignace II, the second location chosen by the Jesuit missionaries for a mission which they gave the name St. Ignatius, or Ignace in their mother tongue. It is sacred ground, since two of the martyrs shed their blood at this very location. Sts. John de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, one after another, suffered severe torture and death over the long hours of a full day, at the hands of Indians who clearly acted in hatred of the faith (Read more about their story in the second part of a separate article).
Little by little, this sacred spot filled up with pilgrims, assembling to walk towards the shrine of the Canadian Martyrs. Families, older folk and young people all came with common intentions: to honor the martyrs, to praise the Savior for whom these died, and to call down the graces of God on their souls, their familes, and their nations. Many old friends were re-united, trading stories from past pilgrimages. As the crowd grew, so did the awareness that one was not alone. The traditional movement has been established for decades in North America, and thank God is not diminishing. But sometimes it is easy to feel alone - or at least very small, particularly in the smaller Mass Centers. But here on pilgrimage we are reminded that we are not alone, and thanks to God's grace, many are faithful to Tradition.
The pilgrims formed into chapters: one for the OLMC boys, one for the Canadian pilgrims, and another for those from the US. Virtually all of these last were from Michigan. The pilgrimage began, and following their banners, the pilgrims made their way out of the clearing - some singing, others praying the rosary, all with their eyes set on the goal, the twin bell towers of the shrine on the hill.
Every pilgrimage is a journey not so much towards a physical place as towards a Person. It is a way of bringing ourselves closer to Christ, who made of his life a pilgrimage towards His home, leaving footsteps for us to follow. And so during this journey the pilgrims prayed. Granted, there was certainly time for relaxation and socializing, but the emphasis was on lifting up the soul to God. Readings from the lives of the martyrs, little pep-talks from the priests, and prayer in song were the orders of the day.
Singing in particular makes the miles fly by, and before they knew it, the pilgrims saw above them the towers of the shrine, calling them onwards. Singing the Litany of the Saints, the procession moved up the hill, and wound its way, still singing, to the outdoor shrine where Mass was to be celebrated.
Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta was the celebrant of the Pontifical Mass, and preached to the assembled pilgrims. He recalled the sufferings of the martyrs and encouraged the faithful to suffer bravely in their daily lives, offering up their trials in union with the Cross of Christ.
Following the Mass a barbeque was enjoyed by those present, and the blisters and sore legs were forgotten in the good food and conversation.
North American Martyrs, pray for us and bring the faith back to our nations!
The day before the Saturday pilgrimage, a small but generous band of pilgrims walked the "Extended Version" of the Martyrs' Pilgrimage. They began the walk at the Church of the Canadian Martyrs in Orillia, ON. They walked for a solid five hours, taking only a small break for lunch, and finished after covering a distance of 20 miles.