Apr 18, 2014

Teens from diocese make Holy Thursday pilgrimage to seven churches



Story and photos by Carolee McGrath

CHICOPEE – Fifty teens from across the Diocese of Springfield spent Holy Thursday evening visiting seven churches in the area, following a Catholic tradition that dates back to ancient times. At each stop the group prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.

“It’s a great thing for young people to do after Holy Thursday Mass, spending time with the Lord in the garden of his passion,” said Joe Dziok, who helps lead the San Damiano Youth Group of St. Stanislaus Bishop and MArtyr Basilica Parish in Chicopee. The 22-year-old used to make the pilgrimage every Holy Thursday with his family. A few years ago, he introduced the idea to the Chicopee youth group. This year, he reached out to other parishes.

“This time around, I started working with other groups in the diocese. We talked about finding a way to get these groups together to connect more,” he said.

After the 7 p.m. Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Stanislaus Basilica on Front Street in Chicopee, the teens prayed before the Blessed Sacrament at the church. Then, they boarded a bus and headed to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Chicopee; Christ the King Parish in Ludlow; St. Elizabeth Parish in Ludlow; St. Cecilia Parish in Wilbraham; St. John the Baptist Parish in Agawam; and finally Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Westfield. Several carloads of parents followed the bus, making the pilgrimage with the youth.

“It’s really very powerful to see everyone here as a youth group together celebrating God, celebrating this night, remembering what Christ did for us,” said Madison Robitaille, a 13-year-old from Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. The church youth group, called the JP II Crew, had 12 students participate. Robitaille said her involvement in youth group has helped her deal with the many pressures of middle school.

“In the end, eventually in life, it’s not about the little silly middle school games. This is a good message,” she said.

Thirteen-year-old Kaelin Thomas is also a member of the JP II Crew. “God will always be there for you. These things are temporary, but God is forever,” said Thomas in reference to the peer pressure teens face every day. “It’s just important to be here and to remember what happened at the last supper and on Holy Thursday,” she continued.

Youth groups from St. Cecilia Parish in Wilbraham, St. Elizabeth’s Parish in Ludlow, and Christ the King Church in Ludlow also joined in the pilgrimage this year. At each stop the teens did a reading and said a prayer. Father Daniel Pacholec, the pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament accompanied the group.

“I think where would fifty teens normally be in the evening? This is wonderful,” said Father Pacholec. “The spirit works among all the youth groups that are here. You are bringing kids together encouraging openness to the Lord. Grace is abundant this night.”

The Seven Church Visitation, also known as Visita Iglesia, dates back to the time of the early Christians who visited the seven shrines connected to the Lord’s Passion. For centuries pilgrims have continued the tradition visiting the seven major basilicas in Rome as a form of penance.

“It’s the night Jesus performed the Last Supper. It’s a chance for our kids to realize what he did for us,” said Lisa Laferriere, the youth minister at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish. “It’s a chance for them to be in his presence, in the presence of the Eucharist.”

It was a very long evening for the youth, with the group wrapping up after midnight. The chaperones did provide them with snacks on the bus. But the teens did not complain.

“I look at these kids. They’re all great kids. It’s fabulous that they want to be part of the church family and they make it a priority too,” said Laferriere.

For more on this story, tune into an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.