On the weekend of September 23, 2011, thirteen Thomas More College students ventured forth to walk the 62-mile pilgrimage from Lake George to the Shrine of Our Lady of the North American Martyrs.
In its sixteenth year, the annual Pilgrimage for Restoration, organized by the National Coalition of Clergy and Laity, is a spiritual journey of the faithful to the place where Saints Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil, and John LaLande were martyred 369 years ago. It is conducted in honor of Christ Our King, for the restoration of new Christendom, and in reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Invoking the intercession of America’s saints and martyrs, pilgrims desire that the Catholic Faith restore every dimension of life: hearts, families, workplaces, parishes, neighborhoods, cities, dioceses and the whole American nation.
The pilgrimage is an exercise of penance and prayer, of contradiction and restoration, having both a personal and social character. Modeled on the annual Pentecost pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Chartres, France, the Pilgrimage for Restoration embraces the traditional doctrine and practice of Holy Church, with all its demands.
Thomas More College students were thrilled to participate in the pilgrimage this year. The students met at a campsite at Lake George where they stayed for the first night and made ready for the journey. At 4:30AM the following morning, the students attended Mass, after which they had a simple breakfast, and began the long pilgrimage.
“The pilgrimage represents your life writ small,” said Liam Mitchell, a sophomore at Thomas More College. “It taught me that you can’t really do life by yourself; you can’t do it without God. Learning that lesson was a great relief for me.” He continued, “The first day was disorganized, but I was still able somehow to remain recollected. By the second and third day we came together, there was comradeship, we all pushed each other along.”
The pilgrims were divided into “brigades,” each brigade representing an army for Christ. The young women of Thomas More College were in the brigade of St. Joan of Arc, while the young men were in the brigade of St. Isaac Jogues. There were other brigades as well, totaling about 250 people, including families, three priests, and several religious brothers and sisters.
The pilgrimage was done on foot, though there were a few buses that drove alongside in case anyone needed a temporary break from the walking.
Marie O’Brien, a sophomore, was one of few who persevered in walking the whole way. “You never really think about walking as being hard. It makes sense that jogging or running is hard, but not walking. This was hard. You hurt after a time,” Marie said. After a moment of reflection she added, “The pilgrimage was profitable because it allowed you to suffer a little bit the way our Lord suffered, and I think that’s not something that we really think about or do very often, the actual physical suffering.”
Talks and meditations were given on topics such as confession, vocation, and the Rosary. In between talks, people prayed litanies, sang the Rosary and hymns, or prayed silently. People also sang folk songs to keep each other motivated and lighthearted when tired. “It helped because if we weren’t praying or singing, we were grumbling,” admitted Liam.
“In St. Isaac Jogues’ brigade,” Liam added, “we felt a bit guilty for complaining because we had just been reading St. Benedict in our Humanities class, and he writes about no grumbling. One of the speakers, though, presented the example of Christ complaining in the Garden of Gethsemane. He didn’t complain to everyone but only to those close to Him, and not for long.”
Oliver Domina, also a sophomore at Thomas More College, commented, “It was a really wonderful experience.” He explained: “I had a rough start—I forgot my warm clothes and my sleeping bag in my car. I got to the campsite very late—I had to drop people off, take my car to where the pilgrimage would end, and catch a ride back with another driver in his car. By the time I went to bed it was one in the morning, and then I only slept about ten minutes that entire night because it was so cold.”
“During the second day, while I was walking, I stopped and just burst out laughing,” said Oliver. “I couldn’t stop! I was overcome by the fact that I was getting the exact opposite of everything I wanted from the trip. Everything from wanting a little snack I thought I had put in my backpack—and it not being there—to being stuck walking next to someone who was annoying the heck out of me, to numerous other things. Whenever I thought to myself, ‘I really hope this doesn’t happen,’ it would happen. I realized that I had been going on the pilgrimage for the wrong reasons and God was telling me to be patient and to think about why I was there. I realized that I needed to be on this pilgrimage to tell my sleeping body to wake up and see the Light, and through the physical pain I was given the perfect opportunity. I also realized that I had thousands of people that I needed to pray and offer up my pain for. It was hard but good, in the best and highest sense of the word.”