Around the Archdiocese

Dubuque area parishes welcome Holy Thursday pilgrims

Students among those who ‘kept watch’ with Jesus

By Rhonda Miska
Witness Correspondent

DUBUQUE — “Could you not remain one hour and keep watch?”

These words of Jesus to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane have inspired a tradition to “keep watch” in eucharistic adoration after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night. The Mass concludes with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament to an altar of repose where the faithful can remain in prayerful vigil into the night.

The pilgrimage practice most likely originated in Rome where there are seven basilicas and pilgrims for centuries have visited all seven on the first day of the Triduum. In many cities in Latin America, the faithful process through the streets singing as they walk from church to church.  In the Philippines the practice is known as Visita Iglesia and many churches there are kept open until midnight.

The ancient practice of “staying awake with Christ” on Holy Thursday night is alive in the Archdiocese of Dubuque as well. Eight Dubuque-area parishes – ­Cathedral/St. Patrick, St. Anthony, St. Joseph (Key West), Resurrection, Nativity, St. Columbkille, St. Joseph the Worker and Holy Spirit – hosted a second annual Holy Thursday pilgrimage on Thursday, March 24.


Father Alan Dietzenbach, the associate pastor of St. Raphael Cathedral/St. Patrick, who has participated in the Holy Thursday pilgrimage in Rome said, “Here in Dubuque we have the luxury of having many great places to worship … we have the opportunity to go from church to church with family and friends.”

Many youth and adults traveled from parish to parish in a self-guided pilgrimage. Each parish had set up an altar of repose in a prayer space adorned with flowers and candles. Materials particularly geared to teens were made available to help guide pilgrims in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. These included reflection questions as well as the texts of the Divine Praises, St. Ignatius of Lo­yola’s “Soul of Christ” prayer, and the words of traditional adoration hymns like “Down in Adoration Falling.”

Dave McElroy, a pilgrimage participant and a parishioner at St. Joseph the Worker, said, “There was a great turnout last year and this year.  It makes the Holy Thursday celebration more special.  It’s a good way to get youth involved.”

The Dubuque pilgrimage concluded with night prayer – one of the hours of the Divine Office, which includes chanting or reciting psalms and singing the Salve Regina – in the Cathedral Center.  Following night prayer, Msgr. Tom Toale spoke about the Holy Door, its significance during the Jubilee Year of Mercy and invited those present to walk through the Holy Door while at the cathedral as part of the pilgrimage experience.

Following night prayer, many youth and adults remained for ice cream sundaes and fellowship which lasted until well after midnight.

Dave McDermott, coordinator of  youth ministry at St. Anthony, said, “This is our second year bringing the youth here (on the pilgrimage) … it’s an opportunity for them to connect with parishes in Dubuque other than their own. We want to make it a part of the high school culture.”

Marcy Mueller, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Joseph the Worker, estimated about 50 area youth participated in night prayer. “It’s awesome to see the Holy Thursday pilgrimage grow and continue. It’s a collaboration of all the parishes in town,” she said.  Mueller also noted that some of the youth had a Kairos reunion at the cathedral before night prayer.

“I thought that the youth response was really great. Most people would not think that a pilgrimage to adore Christ would be dominated by our high school students, but that is exactly what I saw as I went from parish to parish. There was real worship going on and these teens have really grasped the concept of discipleship through waiting with Jesus all night … it gives us youth ministers a chance to see that these high schoolers are hungry for intentional discipleship, hungry for relationship, hungry for community, and (of course) hungry for ice cream,” said Benjy Miller, coordinator of youth ministry at the Cathedral/St. ­Patrick.

(Photo courtesy of Rhonda Miska. A pilgrim prays before an altar containing the Eucharist at Church of the Nativity in Dubuque during the Holy Thursday pilgrimage involving the Dubuque area parishes March 24.)