By George P. Matysek Jr.
Father John “Jack” Lombardi likened it to crossing a finish line.
The administrator of St. Peter, Hancock, and St. Patrick, Little Orleans, arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore Aug. 5 after walking 100 miles from St. Peter in a show of support for religious freedom.
Father Lombardi was accompanied by approximately 20 pilgrims who made the entire trek and about 80 who joined along the way. The group was led into the final leg of its eight-day journey by a police escort and was greeted by cheers as it processed up a hill on Route 40 toward the basilica.
“The entire pilgrimage was a transcendent experience,” Father Lombardi said. “It was part rollercoaster ride, part marathon and part retreat all in one. You endure for the Lord and celebrate his compassion and also his challenge in the world to stand up for the faith.”
Bishop Denis J. Madden celebrated a special 4:30 p.m. Mass for the pilgrims and extended greetings on behalf of Archbishop William E. Lori.
Along the journey, pilgrims had called attention to a new federal health care mandate requiring all employers to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives. They traveled 13 miles a day, distributing information cards and rosaries.
Pilgrims received pledges for every mile travelled. More than $6,000 ($1,000 more than their goal) was raised for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Baltimore and the Interfaith Service Coalition in Hancock.
Bill Fischer, a 57-year-old parishioner of St. Mary, Hagerstown, said the pilgrimage helped others recognize threats to religious freedom.
“We were getting our message out,” he said.
Father Lombardi noted that some people have asked if he intends to organize another pilgrimage next year.
“People would love to do another one,” he said. “Are we going to do it again? I’m going to get a good night’s sleep first.”
Copyright (c) Aug. 7, 2012 CatholicReview.org