This July, for the first time ever, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) organized a pilgrimage in the state of Michigan. Catholics gathered from all over the state in order to walk to the Cross in the Woods Shrine located “up north”. As the name indicates, the shrine is built around a massive image of the Crucified Christ, the largest vertical crucifix in the world.
Near the northern tip of Michigan in a small town named Wolverine, the morning of July 9th found a growing group of travelers at the old train depot. They had woken early, many of them filling SUVs and vans with large families. They had driven many miles from mission chapels across the state. They had come with many things on their minds and many questions in their hearts. They had come above all else to pray—for they were pilgrims.
There is an acutely electric feeling in the air before a pilgrimage starts. If you know nobody you are heartened to see that the Society is large enough to attract more than 90 faithful to the first annual Cross in the Woods pilgrimage. If you have been attending SSPX chapels long enough, you are bound to come across somebody you haven’t seen in a while. The presence of children playing and preparing for a day’s walk lets you know that there is life in this community, and hopefully much good.
As is proper, the pilgrimage began with prayer. Fr. William Kimball also blessed the pilgrims and illustrated the intention for this pilgrimage—the Kingship of Christ—with a story of a Cristero priest. This great man, St. Jose Hurtado, defied his nation’s suppression of Catholicism with an act of faith so great that he was martyred. With that example in their head, how could the coming 13 miles be seen as anything but a mercy from our Lord as far as penances are concerned?
It was then that walking began through a quaint little trail that led through the woods. The caravan was headed up in large part by Fr. David Gillilan and the energetic youth of St. Margaret Mary’s (Allendale). The traveling was accented throughout by the singing of hymns and the recitation of the Rosary. It was during this first half of the journey, leading up to the midday Mass, where one could begin to ask for the grace to draw a deeper meaning from this pilgrimage.
Why do Catholics take part in pilgrimages? It is not for exercise or simply to socialize; a pilgrimage is a sacrifice and a form of prayer when done with the right intentions and disposition. We ask that by symbolically walking with Our Lord to His Cross, our souls may be likewise moved to a closer relationship with Him. Keeping in mind throughout the journey that our sacrifices and discomforts are given towards some greater glory, it engenders the purity of heart required to fortify our love for Him.
Mass was celebrated just before noon in a nondescript rest stop. Onlookers were perhaps confused at the sight of nearly 100 people kneeling under the midday sun. Despite the modesty of the altar, the beauty of the sacrifice was made evident by the reverent silence of those assembled.
Having had received Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the pilgrims’ intentions and prayers were renewed and strengthened. Despite the heat and fatigue of the afternoon, pilgrims persevered—and even sped up their pace! Sooner than expected the goal was reached, and then did upturned faces look with joy upon the One who walked to Calvary out of love for them.
Viva Cristo Rey!