By GREG HARDESTY     10/6/2023

As the strains of the harp quieted and the crowd of about 150 prepared to begin their journey, Kailene Figueroa reflected on the importance of receiving the Eucharist every Sunday.

“It’s an amazing experience,” said Figueroa, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Irvine who is active in the parish’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

“It’s calming, and it gives me peace.”

Figueroa then made her way into the line of young and older Catholics outside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as the crowd began to slowly process under a late-afternoon sun a mile to UC Irvine, the final stop on the first-ever Irvine Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

The two-day walk over the weekend of Sept. 22-23 was held to raise awareness of the “I AM” Diocesan Eucharist Congress at Christ Cathedral on Oct. 20-21.

That free event, open to all, is part of the three-year National Eucharistic Revival campaign declared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. That campaign culminates with the National Eucharistic Congress from July 17-21, 2024, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Irvine pilgrimage followed similar pilgrimages held earlier this year at six churches in south and north Orange County.

The point of the pilgrimages is “to take our love for the Lord Jesus, present in the Eucharist, out into the world he redeemed,” said Deacon Bernie Ocampo of St. Thomas More parish, one of the four Irvine churches, in addition to Anteater Catholic at UCI, that sponsored the Sept. 22–23 walks, in addition to the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

A total of about 700 people participated, exceeding expectations for the inaugural procession across 10 miles of Irvine, Ocampo said. On Saturday morning, the pilgrimage began at St. Thomas More and ended at Our Lady of Peace Korean Center.

On early Sunday afternoon, it began at St. John Neumann, stopped by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and culminated at UCI just past the pedestrian bridge over Campus Drive at University Town Center.

Father Michael Fitzpatrick, parochial Vicar at St. John Neumann, walked the leg from his parish to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“On the one hand,” he said, “we have people who are already faith filled who believe in the Eucharist, and this type of event really helps them. At the same time, the second purpose of the pilgrimage is to be present and visible for people who don’t really understand what the Eucharist is – to get them curious and questioning it. That is important as well.”

Public expression
Priests led each leg of the walks holding up the monstrance, the vessel used to carry the consecrated Eucharistic host, as participants prayed and recited
litanies and hymns. On some legs on the routes, priests paused to bless houses.

Some walkers held up banners.

On the last leg of the pilgrimage, one banner read: “How sweet is the presence of Jesus to the longing soul! It is instant peace and balm to every wound.” – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Another read: Behold the Living Jesus – Truly Present in the Host – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity

“This procession is beautiful,” said Irvine Valley College student Nathan Vu, a lector and cantor for youth Masses and altar server captain at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“God is within all aspects of our lives,” Vu said. “Although this walk to UCI is very short, we pass by a lot of places I would normally go to – restaurants, bus stops, stores and such — and I feel when you think about God and are reflecting on him, even during the mundane everyday things you do, it’s important to see the Eucharist through it all. That’s the biggest thing to me.”

Martha Schneider, head of hospitality at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and a parishioner since 2002, said public expression of Catholic faith is especially important these days.

“It’s time that we come alive and declare our faith and what Jesus had done for us,” she said.

Ready for more
Laura Schuberg, coordinator for youth ministry and confirmation preparation in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at the diocese, was one of the main organizers of the Irvine Eucharistic Pilgrimage, along with Deacon Ocampo.

“This is all about bringing Jesus out into the world,” Schuberg said.

Deacon Ocampo said he was very grateful to be asked by St. Thomas More Pastor Fr. Eugene Lee to help coordinate the Irvine pilgrimage, which was a priority of Bishop Timothy Freyer.

“Blessedly, the beauty of the Eucharistic procession, through God’s grace, helps many to overcome a sense of shame or embarrassment to proclaim our Eucharistic faith by walking with the Eucharistic Jesus in public,” he said.

“In the walk, we share with Christ that feeling, accompanying Him, precisely through our own sacrifices, going up the Calvary, where we can meet our Lord, on the Cross,” Deacon Ocampo added. “This is also a pilgrimage because it represents our journey of ascending to heaven, not alone, but in community and in solidarity.”

Shortly after the procession to UCI began, a passing motorist honked and flashed headlights in support.

“Leave your car and follow us!” one woman said.

The common sentiment among participants after the pilgrimage ended was emphatic, according to Deacon Ocampo.

“Let’s do it again!”