Pilgrims take on elements in Ark journey

  • April 11, 2008

{mosimage}OTTAWA - The pilgrims carrying the Ark of the New Covenant have faced snow and rain and shine.  They have become experts in caring for blisters. Some of them have sunburns on their faces.

Mervin Lucas, 61, of the Gaspé diocese, loves it, even though the days have been long. The pilgrims pushed the Ark on its custom “Ark-mobile” mostly up hill for 31 kilometres through a snow storm on the way to Orillia, Ont., he said. Not only did they have to push the Ark, they had to push the police car when the road got too slippery, he said. 

“We prayed. We laughed. We sang. We got wet. It went well,” he said.

“It has been phenomenal,” said a beaming Sarah McDonald, 26, who is co-ordinating the team of 12 that is transporting the Ark on foot via five national Catholic shrines on its way to Quebec City, to raise awareness of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress taking place there June 15-22. “We have been welcomed in each and every parish.”

The Ark is a symbolic object like the World Youth Day Cross. It has already visited every diocese in Canada.  Not only that, the pilgrims have stopped at schools and slept in the homes of local families. Strangers have invited them into their houses. One woman drove up and told them she had three apple pies in the oven and invited them to come in for pie, ice cream and hot coffee.

McDonald, originally from Sudbury, Ont., replaced team organizer Jerry Grzadka, who came down with pneumonia and had to leave the walk. But McDonald said he is well enough to be back in his Quebec City office and, when he is strong enough, he will rejoin the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage began on Easter Sunday at the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont. The pilgrims invoke the intercession of these Canadian saints every morning when they set out.

The pilgrims arrived in Peterborough on Divine Mercy Sunday. A week later they reached the outskirts of Ottawa. On April 8, they pushed the ark past the Supreme Court of Canada and the Parliament Buildings to Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.

The Ark, shaped like a boat, resembling features of the Old Testament Ark, carries traditional icons decorating its upper deck. The one of Mary “leads,” said McDonald. The pilgrims pray the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and pray for their families, their friends, their parishes and prayer groups. During the days they pray and meditate while they walk. At night they stop for a communal meal at a host parish and celebrate Mass with parishioners and, when possible, eucharistic adoration.

“We are a pilgrim church,” McDonald said. “We are walking towards the ultimate goal which is heaven.” 

The team has broken its pilgrimage to Quebec City down to smaller pilgrimages to each of the shrines before the journey ends on the Feast of Corpus Christi on May 25. The next destination is St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.

Each member of the team has different reasons for joining. Some like Lucas and McDonald plan to walk the whole way; others have joined for two weeks. 

McDonald first encountered the Ark when it arrived at the 2006 Youth Summit shortly after having been blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.  Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, spoke on the conference’s theme, “Here I am.” When he said that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is Jesus Christ’s saying, “Here I am, here I am to serve you,” McDonald knew she had to answer Christ’s call and say, “Here I am” to serve Him.

She joined the Eucharistic Congress organizing team as one of many youthful volunteers who are living with religious communities for free room and board. She came across the Augustinian Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus, and asked to live with them while doing another year of volunteer work. After a time of discernment, she has asked to join the Augustinians as a postulant.

Nicolas Favart, 36, is on a special pilgrimage towards his ordination as a priest during the Congress. Originally from Belgium, Favart discovered the Quebec-based Catholic community La Famille Marie-Jeunesse during 1997 World Youth Day in Paris. He joined the community and has been ordained deacon. He is one of eight members of Marie-Jeunesse who will be ordained to the priesthood at the Congress.

“I find the idea of the Ark absolutely extraordinary,” he said. “This object allows people to sense the greatness and the beauty of the Eucharist.”

Rémi Rivard, 25, also from Marie-Jeunesse, joined the pilgrimage “to meet Jesus” both in others and inside himself, and “to learn more who Christ is.”

Nadia LaLiberté, 34, of Quebec City, plans to walk the whole way. This is her second pilgrimage. She experienced her first accompanying the World Youth Day Cross from Montreal to Toronto in 2002. 

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