By Pat Morrison
For eight years now it’s been going (and growing!) strong: the annual “Stepping Up the Call” pilgrimage across portions of Mercer, Auglaize and Shelby counties to foster awareness of church vocations. And despite some drizzle and gray skies, this year’s may have been the best attended. More than 200 pilgrims, first-timers and “regulars,” took part in some facet of the 8-mile walking and/or driving pilgrimage on Saturday, May 7.
Tapping into the church’s ancient tradition of pilgrimage as spiritual practice, this mid-Ohio version, held rain or shine on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, drew participants from several Ohio dioceses and at least three states. The 2011 pilgrimage included possible stops at five churches and shrines, with prayer and witness talks at each of the sites. Most pilgrims choose to walk, but for those unable to make the pilgrimage on foot, there’s a driving portion also. Others may choose to make a few of the stops, visiting an area church and joining the group for prayer. And of course hungry walkers were treated to healthy snacks at the various stops and lunch to fortify them for the next leg of the pilgrimage.
This year’s pilgrimage had an “international” flavor, with a prayer stop added in… Russia, along with Egypt and Carthagena (the three all Ohio versions of their foreign namesakes). The pilgrimage began with morning prayer at St. Augustine Church in Minster, moved on to St. Joseph Church in Egypt or the Maria Stein Shrine, with a driving portion at St. Remy Church in Russia. The Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics, the first motherhouse and historic convent and shrine of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, was the site for lunch, presentations and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as a tour of the shrine. St. Charles Center in nearby Carthagena, a mission center of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood (priests and brothers) also hosted a tour and marked the culmination of the pilgrimage with the Eucharistic celebration.
In addition to praying for vocations at each pilgrimage stop, participants heard talks on the various expressions of Catholic Christian vocation: married and single life, diocesan and religious order priesthood, the diaconate, and religious sisterhood and brotherhood. Young men and women discerning a church vocation also shared their own stories of faith and prayerful searching.
“Stepping Up the Call” is co-sponsored by the Sisters and Missionaries of the Precious Blood and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, with support from several area deaneries and parishes.