130 miles in 6 days: Fiat Youth Pilgrimage

June 25, 2014
Source: District of the USA

Read how the 2014 Fiat Youth Pilgrimage offered the special opportunity for some young adults from New York state to sanctify themselves (and their country) through prayer and sacrifices, all the while enjoying the camaraderie of their fellow Catholics.

We offer this report about the recent 130 mile long pilgrimage that Fiat, the youth group at St. Therese's Church in Nicholville, New York, made in conjunction with the Auriesville Pilgrimage of Tradition.

The words are Fr. Nicholas Gardner's, the energetic chaplain of Fiat, who kindly provided these notes about the purpose and importance of the pilgrimage for the formation of the youth, as well as some of the interesting stories that occurred during its 6 days.

Also featured on the website is a short report offered by two of the pilgrims: Journey through the land of the Mohawks.

A chaplain's notes on the Fiat Youth Pilgrimage

The main goal of the pilgrimage was prayer: all four ends, and with the whole man, in a total effort—but the effect of a public apostolate became more and more apparent. The cross and flags drew many honks and cheers of enthusiastic approval, and those who stopped and asked (there were many!) were visibly shocked and enchanted by the very idea. "In this country? " they would ask. An elderly lady pulled out her rosary, with tears in her eyes, as if to prove that she too was a Catholic, and cried "I wish I could go with you! " We heard from direct and indirect sources of the wide effects in the city of Albany, for example—our arrival in canoes, and trek up the hill to the capitol was a bit of an event, and was certainly noticed.

We started in Hudson Falls, NY, at our North American Martyrs Chapel, on Monday morning, having met the night before. We canoed and walked three days down the Hudson River all the way to Albany, where we visited and prayed at the cathedral, then visited the capitol, where we prayed the Litany of the Saints on the steps in reparation for the state's anti-Christian laws.

We then walked back up to the Mohawk River, which we followed all the way, camping as went, to the start site for the annual Auriesville Pilgrimage, which we joined on the morning of Saturday, June 7th, after having walked 10 miles that morning from our campsite, beginning at 6am.

Our whole pilgrimage was 130 miles in 6 days: about 80 miles walking, and about 50 canoeing. Our longest canoeing day was 25 miles (during a thunderstorm and torrential downpour), and our longest walking day was 30.

We camped our first night on an island on the Hudson River, and another notable campsite was at the point where the Erie Canal meets the Mohawk River, only a few hundred feet from the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.

The pilgrims attended daily Mass, and we were blessed with enough talented youth that we could have not only sung Masses, but excellent polyphony as well. The theme of the Auriesville Pilgrimage was the Rosary Crusade [completed on Pentecost Sunday], which we were united to, while we had the particular theme of conversion. We followed the Confessions of St. Augustine, and members of Fiat each prepared meditations before the pilgrimage, and read them for the others while walking, or resting along the way. Others read the key chapters from this great book aloud for the group while we walked, and periods of meditation followed.

Singing was a major part of this pilgrimage, and we probably wouldn't have made it far without that distraction and encouragement! The nights usually featured campfires, with different pilgrims condemned to public humiliation in games that will not be spoken of outside the pilgrimage. The night ended in peace with Compline.

The three days down to Albany each focused on a different virtue (humility, fortitude, temperance), emphasizing the "aversio a creatura", while the three days up from Albany (the city of man) to Auriesville focused on three Gifts of the Holy Ghost (Fear of the Lord, Counsel, Wisdom), emphasizing the "conversio ad Creaturam". This all finished on the Vigil of Pentecost, with the pilgrims (hopefully) well-disposed to beg for and receive the gifts they most needed.

The days were filled with alternating times of instruction on the virtue or gift that we were focusing on that day, singing and talking at free times, and the pilgrims' meditations. Their spirit was selfless, courageous, recollected, and infectiously joyful. Although their feet were torn, their skin was burned, and their muscles were throbbing, they only became happier, and sang louder the more they suffered—and when all was said and done, although some of them could barely walk, they still said they would do it all over again. They truly incarnated Fiat's motto of death to self—and the result was an atmosphere of joy and prayer that astounded us all. The Holy Ghost's work in souls was apparent.

The group consisted mainly of Fiat members, although there were a few visitors from other places. We kept the numbers small (16) for this first one, for organization, and so that we could keep the spirit elevated. The group bonded more deeply, and was formed more profoundly than I could have possibly hoped.

When we reached the start point for the traditional SSPX Auriesville Pilgrimage, Fr. Goldade gave Fiat the honor of leading the pilgrimage, which they gladly accepted, and our young men bore the huge wooden cross at the head of the long line of pilgrims, all the way to the site of our land's glorious martyrs' victory.

Just a few additional words about some of the details you will notice in the pictures:

  • The group consisted of young men and women: some will balk at this idea in America, and I am sure it would be a problem in some groups: not so with Fiat. These youth are well-formed, and set the tone right away that there would be no nonsense, and there was none. The young men showed an admirable courtesy to the young ladies, always assisting them first, and looking out for their welfare, while the girls were models of feminine reserve. Their excellent attitudes should continue, even in larger groups, to set a standard that will lead all to higher things than selfish and childish interests. I know this sounds a bit utopian, but these young adults are the real deal. Furthermore, these outings provide an excellent training ground for those not so well-formed, to learn how to interact with others in a normal way.
  • We brought a rickshaw, converted to carry our wounded pilgrims—thus keeping our fallen comrades together, united to the group—and also leveling the playing field between some of the young men who were in great shape, who thus pulled the cart, and some of the weaker sex that needed a break from the spreading blisters, as well as some of the pilgrims that had pre-existing injuries. This proved to be indispensable, and was a great tool for self-sacrifice and humility.
  • Dress for the pilgrimage was semi-formal: basically church clothes. This ensured an appropriate form of dress for both the guys and gals. This was very important in setting the tone for the atmosphere of the pilgrimage, as the adage goes: dress for success.
  • There were no cell phones or other gadgets allowed for the trip, except those which were needed for emergencies and navigation.
  • Just an interesting point: you will notice the pictures of the locks on the Hudson: they opened the enormous locks for the canoes, which saved a lot of work, provided a welcome break, and was a very impressive experience.
  • Our support crew consisted of one man, Antonio Garcia, who drove a truck, along with a part-time pilgrim who drove the canoe-hauling trailer. We also were blessed to have the excellent Mrs. Suzie Betz as our camp cook—again proving that an army marches on its stomach.
  • One of the images from the Auriesville Pilgrimage shows the Fiat group from Nicholville mingling with the Regnum group that came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The intention is to hold this Fiat Youth Pilgrimage every other year, with our Festival of Christendom falling on the alternating years. These are the two greatest works that Fiat pursues, while there are many smaller ones throughout the year.