by Magdalena Dajka, ’20
On the afternoon of Thursday, September 26, excitement filled the air as around sixty students piled onto a charter bus to head to upstate New York for the annual Auriesville Pilgrimage for Restoration. Friday classes were cancelled to allow as many students as possible to go on the pilgrimage, which involves walking sixty-five miles in three days in the footsteps of the North American Martyrs. In spite of the pain and discomfort, those three days are always incredibly beautiful and inspiring.
After a chilly night spent in tents, we pilgrims were awakened at five a.m., too full of anticipation to feel tired. We formed our brigade and silently followed our banners down to the bank of Lake George (formerly called the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament), as the first rosy fingers of dawn appeared on the horizon, mist covered the lake, and a thin sliver of moon lingered over the mountains. There, we joined the other brigades and processed to an imposing statue of St. Isaac Jogues overlooking the lake, under which a Solemn High Mass was celebrated. A few of us students joined in singing Victoria’s “Missa O Magnum Mysterium,” a festive way to begin the pilgrimage. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal, bread, and fruit, all of the brigades re-formed, shouted their battle cries for the first time, and were off!
Since there were so many Thomas More students, our Brigade of San Fernando was divided into two parts, led by seniors Aidan O’Connor and Anthony Mioni. We walked two by two along the side of the road, our banners waving, our voices raised in song. We sang our hearts and lungs out over those three days of walking; the singing got us over many a hill and made us forget many a pain – because there was indeed much pain. Walking over twenty miles a day takes a toll on the body; by the end of the first day there was not a pilgrim without blisters, knee or hip pains, exhausted muscles, or at the very least, sore feet. Soon, every step became a struggle, but we just looked at our friends suffering with us, began another song, prayed the rosary together, remembered our pilgrimage intentions, and kept going. And if someone really could not go on, he could rest in one of the vans, that too being a form of penance, a practice of humility. To the world, such voluntary suffering may seem like utter folly, but for the Catholic, it has great meaning. As we so often repeated in our brigade’s chant, “Penance, penance, penance!” “Penance is stored!” “Stored for what?” “For our reward!”
Then, in silence, all the brigades filed down to the ravine where St. Rene Goupil was martyred on that very day, September 29, 1642. We knelt on the grass in wonder, gratitude, and devotion.
There was so much beauty amid the suffering: the autumnal fields, flowers, and forests of upstate New York; the sung Masses on cold, dark mornings; the sunrises and camaraderie; the relief of finally resting on field or forest floor to bring out our provisions and tend to our feet. In true Thomas More style, one young man in each of our brigades happened to have a conch shell horn; whenever our spirits started flagging, we would raise our battle cry, and the two conches would call out to each other, like the horns of the Rohirrim echoing across the valley. It was exhilarating.
At last, on Sunday afternoon, we approached the final hill, the entrance to our destination: the Auriesville Shrine of the North American Martyrs. At that sight, we rallied our last strength, joined our two brigades into one, and charged up the hill four abreast, practically screaming the Magnificat round in pain and triumph. Then, in silence, all the brigades filed down to the ravine where St. Rene Goupil was martyred on that very day, September 29, 1642. We knelt on the grass in wonder, gratitude, and devotion. Then, we processed back up to the church, where another beautiful sung Mass was celebrated. And just like that, the pilgrimage was over. In addition to the relief at not having to walk any farther and the triumph at having made it to the end, there was a bit of sadness at having to part ways with our fellow pilgrims, our comrades with whom we had shared so much suffering and joy.
Soon, all the pilgrims dispersed towards their homes, and we Thomas More students headed back to our home-away-from-home, with the traditional post-pilgrimage stop at Five Guys to complete the experience. The next morning, the pilgrims could be seen hobbling to class, but our joyful laughter contradicted our aching bodies. Rejuvenated by the graces of the weekend, our hearts were still singing those words which our lips had so often repeated:
Magnificat, magnificat anima mea Dominum
cantate, cantate Domino Gloria
alleluia, alleluia, semper.