Last week myself and approximately 450 teens and chaperones ventured to Washington D.C. from the Diocese of Baton Rouge to experience a week diving into our faith, our American heritage, and ultimately to walk in the National March for Life that took place on January 19th at the Nation’s Capital.
The Diocese of Baton Rouge takes what could be any other trip and turns it into a Pilgrimage experience for its attendees. The goal is not a typical “educational tour,” rather, a life-changing spiritual pilgrimage. To reach this end, the goals of the Pilgrimage are: deep, personal conversion; vocational discernment; pro-life advocacy; fellowship and fun; and to form the next generation of pro-life leaders.
The primary means to meet our formation goals are “prayer and sacrifice.” This mantra is repeated constantly to help participants prepare for the thousands of ways they will make personal sacrifices during the pilgrimage. It becomes something of an automatic response to every pain, annoyance, or hassle, and although it seems like a running joke at times, it becomes a central lesson of the trip.
To meet the goal of personal conversion, our group visits several spiritual places and shrines, attends daily Mass, participates in evening praise and worship, and experiences several prayer vigils with Eucharistic Adoration and Confessions. Every year, we attend Mass in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with the other Dioceses from Louisiana. This moment is always a highlight as we come together with approximately 2,500 other fellow friends, family, seminarians, priests and even Bishops all from Louisiana.
To meet the goal of vocational discernment, we bring seminarians, priests, and religious sisters who spend dozens of hours hanging out with the teens, helping them to see that religious vocations are for people who are ordinary, “down-to-earth,” and real – just like them. These interactions play a unique role in giving teens the ability to imagine and picture themselves choosing a religious vocation. We also invite married couples, single adults, young adults and college students on the pilgrimage as witnesses to the truth and joy of each particular vocation and state of life in which they are living.
To meet the goal of pro-life advocacy, we look towards America’s pro-life roots in places like Gettysburg (Lincoln’s Address) and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. We also visit the Holocaust Museum each year to draw connections between the eugenic efforts of the Nazis and the targeting of our weakest citizens in the unborn, especially the targeting of potentially disabled unborn children. We take advantage of Martin Luther King Day by presenting the pro-life issues through the lens of civil rights and draw comparisons between Martin Luther King’s D.C. March and our own.
To meet the goal of fellowship and fun, we play games, watch skits, enjoy music, engage in faith sharing, and other youth oriented activities. We also laugh a whole lot! The hours spent on the bus are an especially great time to grow in these goals, as we have a 24-hour trip to D.C. and a 24-hour trip back home; plus the spirituality of pilgrimage demands that we focus on both the “journey” and the “destination.”
Thank you for your prayers and efforts to help us attend this Pilgrimage each year! We have a culture of life stirring up in the heart of our young people here at Mercy, and it’s an honor to be a part of these efforts with you.
May God Bless you!
Director of Religious Education and Youth Ministry