’Amazing’ encounters reported on Eucharistic pilgrimage

As a Eucharistic procession made its way May 28 through Victoria, Texas, a 20-something man sitting on the side of a street caught Charlie McCullough's attention. 

McCullough stopped to talk with him, explaining what was going on: The procession was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage en route to Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress, and the Eucharist they were walking behind is really, truly Jesus.

"He had grown up in the Protestant faith and had never seen a Eucharistic procession before and was at a time in life where he was asking a lot of big questions about what is the reason I exist for, what's the purpose of life, all these things," McCullough, one of six perpetual pilgrims on the pilgrimage's southern St. Juan Diego route, recalled May 29. "We talked briefly and I kept walking."

About five blocks later, McCullough looked over his shoulder and saw the man running after the procession. He caught up to McCullough and asked if they could talk more.

"He told me that that morning was the first time he had tried to pray in years. He opened his Bible, and he didn't know if the Lord had heard him. And when we walked by — when Jesus Christ walked by  — he knew something was different. And he knew that he wanted to follow the Lord, and he had so many questions about how and what he wants to do, and there was this zeal welling up in his heart," McCullough said. "I just got to pray with him and encourage him."

"At the end of our conversation, he goes, 'I know this sounds crazy, but I want to go all the way to Indianapolis,'" he said.

McCullough shared that encounter on a May 29 media call that included pilgrims from all four routes of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which began May 18-19 in California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas. Ten days into their journeys, the 23 perpetual pilgrims were in the Diocese of Victoria; the Diocese of Boise, Idaho; the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.

Their second week included already iconic events — such as when Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York blessed the city with the Eucharist from a boat near the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor May 27 — and hidden moments — like when a man got out of a truck in the middle of Oregon, far away from any towns, and genuflected as the Eucharistic caravan passed.

"It was just a moment driving by, but he had gone out that distance to make sure he knew he would be by Jesus," said Chas Firestone East, a perpetual pilgrim from Virginia journeying on the western St. Junipero Serra Route.

The pilgrims shared other stories of encounter and conversion: On the California side of Lake Tahoe, a photographer for a secular news outlet — amazed by the masses of people turning out for processions — told the perpetual pilgrims that he was inspired to learn more about the Eucharist and plans to begin the process for becoming Catholic. Meanwhile, a woman who isn't able to walk with the pilgrims has been joining each procession along the St. Juan Diego Route since Brownsville, Texas, on a retrofitted tricycle. Also in Texas, some perpetual pilgrims helped bandage a woman's wounded leg at a homeless shelter, and then the woman  — whose name is Hope — asked the pilgrims to pray with her.

"It was just a beautiful moment to see Jesus … getting to see him inside the person that we encounter," said Shayla Elm, a Juan Diego Route perpetual pilgrim originally from North Dakota.

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