Ian Gallagher is out in front in this picture by Jacinthe Dina of a previous pilgrimage Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Three-day Canadian pilgrimage inspired by famous Chartres trek

  • August 23, 2017

OTTAWA – An annual three-day, 100 km walking pilgrimage to Notre-Dame-du-Cap in Quebec Sept. 2-4 was inspired by a similar pilgrimage to from Paris to Chartres, France, says an organizer.

St. Clement Parish, a Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) in Ottawa, had members who organized groups to attend the Chartres pilgrimage, before it was decided to plan a similar one in Canada to the Marian Shrine at Cap-de-la-Madeleine near Trois-Rivières, Que., said Ian Gallagher, one of the organizers of this year’s pilgrimage.

This year, because of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, there has been an “uptick” in devotions to Our Lady, Gallagher said, but he’s not sure if that will mean an increase in numbers.  Usually between 80-100 people go on the pilgrimage, some from St. Clement, but other from elsewhere in Canada and the United States. Compared to the Chartres pilgrimage that ends on Pentecost and draws about 10,000 people, this one is “tiny,” he said.

In 2003, a group of eight people scouted out the first pilgrimage, “to see how it work, where people would camp, and so on,” said Gallagher, 27, an Ottawa civil servant and married father of one child.

The first official pilgrimage began in 2004.  Gallagher, who had belonged to St. Clement’s since he was four years old, has been actively involved since 2005, often “being the guy at the front of the pilgrimage to help keep a walking pace” though he hasn’t participated every year.

The pilgrimage begins North of Montreal at Saint-Joseph-de-Lanoraie and is “based on the route that the Canadian Martyrs would have walked along on the St. Lawrence River,” Gallagher said.

Early on the first day, the pilgrims pass a spot where Jesuits, including St. Isaac Jogues, were first apprehended by the Iroquois in 1642, he said.  “The focus of our pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Cape, but we’re always mindful this route we are walking on is the land the Jesuit martyrs would have walked on.”

The pace is gruelling: the pilgrims walk roughly 40 km the first day, 40 km the second and “then it dips for the last day” when they only walk the last 20 km in half a day.

But Gallagher does not advise training for it, or practicing.  “I don’t think it would actually help that much, especially for someone who has never done this pilgrimage before, or something like it,” he said. 

“This pilgrimage is really a test of your mental state,” he said. “If you are distracted, and you are just walking along and thinking about your feet and how much they hurt, you will be mentally discouraged from carrying on. This discouragement will not only linger in your mind, it will make itself present in every step you take,” he said.

“This pilgrimage not like anything else,” he said. “You’re walking on highways 8-10 hours a day. Your feet are going to hurt, your joints are going to hurt whether you practice or not.”

The key is “don’t think about your feet,” he said.  “Pray, sing, have conversations.”

What are the benefits of doing a walking pilgrimage?

“Just off the bat, it presents you with a great opportunity to offer up pain,” Gallagher said. “You’re always in pain. You’re exhausted at the end of the day, not just physically but mentally. You can offer that up.”

The pilgrimage also offers many opportunities for confession. Organized into French and English chapters, a priest walks in the wide gap between them on the road.  “Anyone who wants to go to confession can walk to that gap and have confession on the route.”

“It’s a unique confession experience,” Gallagher said. “Many people avail themselves of it.”

Each chapter will pray at least 15 decades of the Rosary, singing it in either French or Latin, he said.

The priest in each chapter will give little meditations throughout the day. The pilgrims attend Mass daily at historic churches along the route.

“At the end of the day, we all gather in a church before going to bed,” he said. “We all sing the Office of Compline and that ends the night.”

A truck carries camping gear, food for a simple breakfast of bread, peanut butter and coffee, a lunch of bread and water and a supper of soup and more bread, Gallagher said.  Pilgrims carry a backpack for water and snacks.

A third chapter, called the St. Joseph Chapter, “the worker pilgrims,” get up early to prepare breakfast, set out the plates and serve the food. Then they clean up and drive to the next location, picking up any pilgrims who might fall ill, he said.

Families have participated, including parents pushing their children in strollers, he said.

En route, people are told the stories of Our Lady of the Cape, the miraculous ice bridge that formed after people prayed the Rosary, allowing for building materials for a church to pass across the St. Lawrence River, and the miracle of the eyes where the statue of Our Lady of the Cape was seen by three witnesses to open her eyes and take on a human countenance.

“Not everyone knows anything about Our Lady of the Cape,” he said. “It’s always an opportunity to inform people.”

Once they arrive at the Shrine, people can explore the area to find out more, he said.

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