Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Johnathon Kelso
Father Valery Akoh, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Tyrone, processes with the Blessed Sacrament during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage stop at St. Mary's Academy in Fayetteville June 21. The community also had adoration in the academy's auditorium.


National Eucharistic Pilgrimage reignites faith in Archdiocese of Atlanta 

By NATALIA DURON, Staff Writer | Published June 25, 2024  | En Español

ATLANTA—The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage made its way through the Archdiocese of Atlanta, with pilgrims spending three days walking under the blazing southern sun.

Camille Anigbogu, Shayla Elm, Issy Martin-Dye, Charlie McCullough, Joshua Velasquez, Mackenzie Warrens and seminarians Dylan James Young and Noah U’ren are the eight perpetual pilgrims walking the St. Juan Diego route of the national pilgrimage. Their journey to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis began in Brownsville, Texas, on May 19.

The pilgrims stopped seven times in the archdiocese, first attending a welcome Mass at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Newnan, south of Atlanta, the morning of June 21. The first eucharistic procession was at St. Mary’s Academy in Fayetteville on June 21, and the last at St. Joseph Church in Dalton on June 23. Parishioners from the archdiocese and neighboring states joined in to process with and celebrate the Eucharist.

Musicians join the procession of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Joseph Church in Dalton during a stop of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage June 23. Parishioners also kept watch during a nocturnal adoration, which continued until the following morning. Photo by Johnathon Kelso

The pilgrims drive for longer distances in a van, carrying the Eucharist and their belongings. For shorter and safer distances, they walk and process with the communities they visit.

As the group arrived at St. Mary’s Academy, the faithful kneeled and prayed while the monstrance was led out into procession, kicking off their visit.

Father Valery Akoh, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Tyrone, processed with the Blessed Sacrament and led the eucharistic caravan around the academy’s football field, praying the rosary along the way.

“It’s so hot outside, but it’s warm and welcoming,” one parishioner said to a friend. “That’s what it feels like, God’s love.”

Joshua Velasquez, an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame, testified inside the academy’s auditorium, speaking about his experience on the pilgrimage so far.

Kept by his side the entire journey is Velasquez’ Polaroid camera. He has been capturing images of their travels and memories. In his testimony, Velasquez shared a thought-provoking moment when he took a picture of the monstrance in their van.

“I decided to take a picture of our Lord in the dark van, and it’s safe to say that the two pictures I took turned out to be pitch black,” he said. “It got me thinking, where is the light? Even though it was frightening to see a void, I saw that there was something beautiful about this. Because when things seem like it is utter darkness, it is when the brightest light is shining.”

The crowd began to understand Velasquez’s story and kneeled as he expanded on his reflection of the Polaroid images.

“Today, I want you to reflect on the mystery of our Lord’s passion,” Velasquez said. “See how our Lord brings light in the darkness, as even the dark is light for God, because he brings good out of the deepest evils. Whatever place of darkness might reign in your hearts, hear that the place of darkness can become light. From darkness springs light.”

After prayer and private moments with the Eucharist, the pilgrims shared a few goodbyes with the academy community and packed their van. As the pilgrims drove off, women in veils chased the van chanting, “que viva Cristo Rey.”

The pilgrims drove to a nearby Shell gas station, where they began their journey on foot to Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale. Led by Bishop John Tran of Atlanta, the pilgrims and a caravan walked on sidewalks, gaining attention from neighborhood residents and passing drivers.

Bishop John Nhàn Tran processes with the Blessed Sacrament toward Our Lady of Vietnam church in Riverdale, accompanied by the clergy and members of the parish. The June 21 procession was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. Photo by Johnathon Kelso

The pilgrims’ Atlanta visit also included morning prayer on June 22 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church with Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, followed by Mass at the Lyke House Catholic Center that serves the colleges campuses of Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and Georgia State University.

Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., called for June 22 to be an archdiocesan day of service in solidarity with the pilgrims. The pilgrims volunteered alongside Bishop Shlesinger and the Missionaries of Charity at the order’s home in Stone Mountain, where the sisters provide academic enrichment to students who are mostly Burmese refugees.

Archbishop Hartmayer welcomed the pilgrims to the Cathedral of Christ the King June 23 for Sunday Mass and a procession on the cathedral grounds.

‘Our God is love’

The last stop in the archdiocese at Dalton’s St. Joseph Church allowed the pilgrims to immerse themselves in the passionate Hispanic Catholic community there. With about 700 registered attendees, several different ministries showcased their talents and love for the faith in their own unique way as they greeted the pilgrims and monstrance.

Women dressed in colorful capes depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe led the procession and sang soothing Spanish hymns to the Eucharist and pilgrims. Musicians dressed in shimmering gold suits performed songs; their music radiated throughout the walk to the church’s field. A group of performers wearing flower crowns danced with maracas and drums and kneeled as they met the Blessed Sacrament.

Father Jose Refugio Oñate Melendez, pastor of St. Joseph Church, led the procession. The faithful gathered in the church’s field to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. All eight perpetual pilgrims gave testimonies to the crowd, speaking in Spanish if they could and gaining applause from the community.

“Nuestro Dios es Amor,” Velasquez said. Meaning, “Our God is love.”

Pilgrim Shayla Elm, a native of North Dakota, spoke about how her life has been impacted by God’s plan, and how she felt called to this opportunity.

“I asked the Lord if he wanted me to share any words with you all, and the word that kept coming up was curiosity—to have a curiosity about our Lord and why he has you in the place he has you,” Elm said. “How did I end up here, on this stage in front of you all in Georgia? This is something I find very curious for myself. We all have an opportunity tonight to be curious about what is happening in each of our hearts.”

The Perpetual Pilgrims of the Juan Diego Route joined the Missionaries of Charity, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesigner III of Atlanta and Father Mark McCormick of the Diocese of Rapid City for a day of service June 22 in Stone Moutain. The sisters provide academic resources at the home for mostly Burmese students. Photo by Terry Pickard

Issy Martin-Dye, a journalism student at Ohio University, touched on her journey and how her faith has grown.

“It’s been a joy to travel across the country with Jesus and witness him in such a unique way, he’s just showing us how simple he is and how simple his love is, and how much he wants to come to us right now,” she said. “He’s not for the future or the past, he’s for right now.”

Church members kept watch during a nocturnal adoration at St. Joseph, concluding at 7 a.m. the following day.

The perpetual pilgrims on the St. Juan Diego route “essentially travelled across the globe and witnessed many cultures in Georgia,” Elm said, adding that they saw how the Eucharist is worshipped in Hispanic, Vietnamese and American cultures.

The pilgrims now travel north through Tennessee and Kentucky toward the National Eucharistic Congress on July 16.

“I’m excited to meet with the other routes again, to all come together and swap stories about our experience,” Elm said concerning the congress in Indianapolis. “I’m excited for young adults to carry our faith into the next generation.”