The pilgrims, primarily Polish Catholics, were joined by friars, priests and nuns on the 65-mile walk that began Thursday at Saints Peter and Paul Church in northwestern New Jersey to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa. The pilgrimage was to conclude with a celebration of Sunday Mass at the shrine.
The pilgrims, who spend the nights camping in parks along the way, endure blisters, sunburn and bug bites in the heat of August, but such inconveniences matter little compared to the spiritual reward, said Brother Luke Joseph Leighton of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
"People are seeking wholeness and praying for something. They're offering their pain up," Leighton, 28, said Saturday as he sat beneath the shade of a tree in a country churchyard in Tinicum Township. "We realize life can get very fragmented, and this allows us to become reintegrated with the Lord."
Volunteers in vehicles followed the walkers, providing refreshments. Leighton said the pilgrimage also included daily Mass, counseling and confession, as well as music and singing.
The 23rd annual event is based on a tradition in Poland of pilgrims journeying to the original Czestochowa, a shrine to the Virgin Mary in southern Poland from which the Czestochowa in New Britain Township gets its name.
"We are all Catholics," said Wojciech Rafalowski, of Long Island, N.Y. "It's a big tradition and a way for us to come together."
Rafalowski brought his two teenage children on the pilgrimage, and many other young faces were among the crowd.
"They don't have their iPhones. There's no computer. But many of them told me how they've been looking forward to this," Leighton said. "They get to have a real conversation and get to know each other and that's refreshing."
Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, http://www.phillyburbs.com