Inspired by Fr. Gabriel Richard, group sets out on foot from Monroe County to the Basilica of Ste. Anne, praying for the Church along the way

ERIE — Like a lot of Michiganders suffering from “COVID cabin fever,” Joe Boggs had been looking for months for an excuse to get out of the house. 

Some people go for a drive. Others might visit a lake or a park. But Boggs had a better idea.

Starting Thursday, July 16, Boggs organized and led a 40-mile walking pilgrimage from southern Monroe County to the Basilica of Ste. Anne in Detroit to celebrate the feast of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s patroness. 

Along with nine other pilgrims, Boggs set out from St. Joseph Parish in Erie with a plan to walk the entire distance, stopping at several local churches along the way and enjoying fellowship and socially distanced faith before arriving at Ste. Anne on Sunday, July 19.

The pilgrimage was inspired by Fr. Gabriel Richard, the pioneering priest of Detroit who is buried at Ste. Anne, and was a chance for the pilgrims to reflect, pray and respond to a time of pandemic, economic uncertainty and civil unrest, Boggs said.

Joe Boggs laughs with pilgrims during their walk through the Downriver area to the Basilica of Ste. Anne in Detroit. Boggs organized the pilgrimage to pray for the Church during a time of unrest and anxiety. 

“Obviously, there are a lot of things going on that are seemingly out of our control, but there are things we can control and repent for,” said Boggs, co-chair of the Monroe Vicariate Evangelization and Catechesis Committee and a Monroe resident. “There are issues like abortion, the continued slaughter of the unborn, and ills in our society like racism and hate that we need to repent for.”

Accompanied by a support car in case of emergencies, and a few of the pilgrims being unable to complete the journey because of scheduling issues,  the group began its long walk north, praying the Angelus, rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet along the way and sharing their own faith journeys.

Leaving St. Joseph in Erie, the group headed northeast for 13.1 miles to St. Mary Parish in Monroe, staying the night in the social hall.

Boggs said each of the pilgrims, who are leaders in their own faith communities, joined him on the trek to pray for a renewal of the Church, taking inspiration from the motto Fr. Richard coined for the city: “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.”

When Maria Eby of St. Mary Parish in Monroe was asked by Boggs to join the pilgrimage, she thought it would be a great chance to put “Unleash the Gospel” into practice.

Jake Kanitz looks on during the Fr. Gabriel Richard walking pilgrimage Saturday, July 18, as the group continued its 40-mile trek of prayer, conversation and reflection. 

Eby, a teacher at Triumph Academy in Monroe, added months of quarantine and staying indoors were all the inspiration she needed to go out in nature to renew her faith.

As the group walked from St. Michael Parish in Monroe, where they celebrated morning Mass, to St. Mary Parish in Rockwood 16 miles away, Eby shared her own story of losing her husband, saying the pilgrimage brought a sense of healing and empowerment. 

“What’s been so powerful is hearing everyone’s faith journey; how they ended up at this point in these last few days,” Eby said. “There is another woman in our group who is widowed, a convert to Catholicism. There are people who have been Catholics their whole life, continually trying to improve their faith or have drifted and come back. Hearing other peoples’ experiences has been an unexpected bonus for me.”

Walking the 14.6 miles up Fort Street and West Jefferson Avenue from St. Mary in Rockwood to St. Joseph in Trenton was challenging enough for the group, but doing so in the heat of July added a new level of sacrifice to the journey, Eby said. 

“Sometimes you’re focused on the conversations that are happening, others times you’re focused on prayer, and sometimes you’re focused on your sore feet,” Eby said. “But I was identifying the suffering I was feeling with the suffering anyone goes through in life, the suffering of Christ on the cross. It was a good time to be fully present.”

Left to right, Heather Wilson, George Strimpel, Jake Kanitz, Joe Boggs, Maria Eby, Erica Hartman and Nick Farley stop next to the Detroit River during the Fr. Gabriel Richard Walking Pilgrimage. The pilgrims are leaders in their own faith communities who want to bring about spiritual renewal in Monroe County.  

Deacon Zaid Chabaan of St. John the Baptist Parish in Monroe accompanied the pilgrims along much of the route, leading spiritual reflections and posing questions for the group to consider.

“We need to be a Church that’s on mission, a Church that’s not confined to particular walls and a building,” said Deacon Chabaan, a transitional deacon studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary for his anticipated ordination to the priesthood in May 2021. “We need to be a group that goes out to bring the Gospel, and the witness of a small group of people walking together helps build a closer Christian unity.”

As the group headed north from St. Joseph in Trenton to St. Andre Bessette in Ecorse, a 7.7-mile journey up Jefferson, Deacon Chabaan said passersby would ask the group why they were walking the mostly abandoned, industrial stretch of road.

“We’d tell people we are a on pilgrimage to Ste. Anne, giving a simple witness to Christ and being joyful while we we’re doing it,” Deacon Chabaan said. “They knew we were Christian, making a sacrifice, in a time of pandemic, but especially in the heat of a summer day.”

The group stayed the night at St. Andre Bessette on Sunday, July 19, attending Mass there before setting out on the final, 6.9-mile stretch to the Basilica of Ste. Anne. 

Boggs said those who participated in the pilgrimage — mostly from Monroe County — want to see the area’s parishes transformed into welcoming, vibrant centers of evangelization, bringing healing to a world that needs it. 

“The biggest thing we’re all experiencing is a sense of hope,” Boggs said. “There is a lot of negativity and pessimism in our world, and we want to be the messengers of hope Christ calls us to be. We want this pilgrimage to be a call to renewal for the Church, to go out and be that missionary Church.”

The group has documented its journey on the “Unleash Monroe” Facebook page, which promotes Catholic initiatives in the archdiocese’s southernmost region.