After 25 years of continuous operation, the Auriesville Pilgrimage once again followed the footsteps of the great North American Martyrs
It didn’t rain during the 2016 Pilgrimage of Tradition at Auriesville, New York, buoying the spirits of all those who attended. Led by the young gentlemen from Blessed Virgin Mary Academy in Syracuse, New York, approximately 500 people, mainly from the Northeast, walked the ten-mile route along the Erie Canal for the intention of Catholic families. Praying, singing, and contemplating, seven groups – many comprised of several chapters - maintained a solemn atmosphere, separated by banners, yet united in penitence under a warm sun.
This year’s event marked a departure from past years in that the Shrine of the North American Martyrs was welcoming to the SSPX, opening it to pilgrims for the weekend of September 9, 10, and 11th. The local Bishop Scharfenberger, whose diocese now maintains the property, granted use of all facilities, including the Shrine (Coliseum) for saying Mass. Many attendees were able to camp on site, making logistics much easier for the coordinators.
Located in the foothills of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, the enormous Coliseum sits atop a high ridgeline overlooking an expanse of trees, waterways, and open sky visible from almost every one of its numerous doors. Constructed in 1930 with five separate altars grouped around the center and a capacity for 6,000 worshippers, it hearkens to an age when “going on pilgrimage” was a pillar of Catholic identity. Pilgrims flocked here from all over North America to pay homage to St. Isaac Jogues, St. Rene Goupil, and St. Jean de la Lande, whose blood was shed on this sacred ground.
It was during the 1640’s here at Ossernenon, as it was referred to by the Mohawk Indians, that the three French Jesuit missionaries were killed by the Mohawks while bringing the Catholic Faith to the New World. These three along with five Jesuit priests martyred in Canada during the same decade, were canonized in 1930 as the eight North American Martyrs.
From Friday evening, when many pilgrims arrived to celebrate Mass, to Sunday morning’s high Mass before they departed to their homes, the spirit of the martyrs dwelled among the faithful. As they walked the ten-mile path along a former railroad bed on Saturday, praying the rosary and singing, they also listened to the stories read of privation, torture, and sickness repeatedly endured by the martyrs in the hope of saving souls in a rough, brutal environment. While converts were few, the martyrs’ missionary zeal, which long ago inspired the respect of even their torturers, inspired the pilgrims during their walk.
Also uplifting were the talks and sermons given throughout the weekend. Msgr. James Byrnes offered Mass in the Coliseum Friday evening and preached of how the martyrs had to contend with driving out satanic practices before preaching the faith. Such practices today are satanic attacks against the family and he urged the faithful to invoke the martyrs and St. Peter Claver in the battle for the family. Fr. John Jenkins, stationed in Nigeria, gave a short exhortation on the family to begin Saturday’s pilgrimage. Fr. James McLucas, from Kansas City, joined the pilgrimage and spoke on the importance of sanctity at the lunchtime break. Fr. David Thomas developed this subject at the solemn high Mass in the Coliseum, assisted by Frs. Nicholas Gardner and Dylan Flanery. Raising beautiful voices during Saturday’s and Sunday’s Masses were the young men and women of Blessed Virgin Mary Academy.
The Pilgrimage of Tradition started more than 25 years ago out of Ridgefield, Connecticut’s St. Ignatius Retreat House, who continues to organize it. A year’s worth of preparation goes into the event, with teams of volunteers coordinating permits, insurance, bathroom facilities and water, emergency personnel, promotion, recording, and record-keeping. As many as 2,500 attendees have participated in the past. While rains may have kept some away, it is hoped future Pilgrimages of Tradition will draw ever more faithful to participate and attain the many graces available from this spiritual journey.