We Showed Up Anyway
"I found myself recognizing beauty not so much in the things that I saw or felt, but more in the significance of these things."
In the past, the annual Communion and Liberation University student (CLU) pilgrimage was a five-day, seventy-mile trek to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin. I never attended this pilgrimage myself, but the entire process sounded both strenuous and beautiful. Needless to say, the one day, seven-mile long pilgrimage that took place this year sounded practically effortless by comparison. But given the cancellation of the CLU vacation earlier in the year and overall lack of interaction within the community in this time, the news that there would be any sort of gathering at all came as music to my ears. I also wanted to go to be physically present with the community. The global pandemic really helped me see the importance that these people and their friendships have in my life, and I desired a chance to be with them again.
The event began with a gathering at a small church in Green Bay the evening before the pilgrimage. This consisted in an introduction from Father Pietro as well as singing and readings of passages from Father Giussani (masks were worn and social distancing was practiced). Our walk the next day consisted in silence, praying rosaries, a few songs, and confession in the back of the line. More than once during the walk I asked myself why we were walking at all. This wasn’t a very physically beautiful place, and it’s not like it was a long or strenuous journey in which my tiredness and sweat served as a reminder of my destination. So, what was the point of walking? Why were we all doing any of this?
The night before, Father Pietro had made the point that our very presence at this short pilgrimage meant that we have a desire to be loved and to be forgiven, and nothing is more interesting and worth our desire than to take our relationship with God more seriously. Before coming to Wisconsin at all, I knew we would be going on a short walk, and I knew it wouldn’t be physically attractive. But I still showed up. We all did. This event wasn’t beautiful because it was like the usual pilgrimage, it was beautiful because it was unlike the usual pilgrimage and we showed up anyway. For me, this served as a true testament to our desire to stay together, be loved, and forgiven.
When we got to the site of the shrine, we spent some more time in prayer before the solemn mass that would be taking place. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see when I first got there, but I think “The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help” brought a very physically beautiful place into my mind. And while it certainly wasn’t unpleasant, the site wasn’t quite what I expected. There were massive tents set up outside the church and an unpleasant smell from the surrounding farms. After visiting the shrine itself and having Mass, a friend of mine commented on the site, saying how beautiful it is that of all the places in the world that Mary could appear, one of them is now middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin—it’s not like she chose where to appear based upon which place would look (or smell) the best in 160 years, but rather she appeared to Adele simply to tell her to go and spread God’s word.
I noticed a sort of theme in the events that took place at the pilgrimage weekend. I found myself recognizing beauty not so much in the things that I saw or felt, but more in the significance of these things. We knew our walk would not be long and strenuous, but we all still arrived. The shrine was not as beautiful as I had imagined, but that’s still where Mary had appeared.
It sounds corny, but this pilgrimage really affirmed for me how God can work in mysterious ways. With how incredibly difficult this year has been and continues to be, it’s become very easy for me to separate things into categories of “good” and “bad” based on how they appear to me. But this pilgrimage helped me to remember (even in the process of writing this reflection) how not just beauty but also Christ can be found in places that may not always appear to be attractive.
William, Twin Cities, Minnesota