By Bill Miller and Jessica Easthope
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — People from across the Diocese of Brooklyn came to Cathedral Basilica of St. James on Wednesday to receive ashes and to help launch a new Lenten journey that beckons Catholics back to the Church.
Bishop Robert Brennan officially began the 2023 Lenten Pilgrimage by celebrating the cathedral’s noon Mass. He distributed ashes with Father Bryan Patterson, rector of the cathedral. The bishop also stayed later for Eucharistic Adoration with some of the Mass attendees.
But there was more: “Pilgrims” also received their “passports” for the 40-day Diocesan Lenten Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage invites people to visit a different parish each day, except Sundays, during Lent. Forty-two parishes are designated for specific days on the itinerary, although five of the days have two parishes as options.
At each stop, pilgrims can attend Mass, receive reconciliation, or engage in Eucharistic Adoration. They can also have their passports affixed with the “stamp” of that parish. Securing 20 or more stamps qualifies the passport holder for a special certificate signed by Bishop Brennan.
Laura Taylor, a 20-year member of the cathedral’s parish, said she hoped younger congregants would join her on the pilgrimage and perhaps receive a newfound joy.
“Fewer people are coming to church, which makes me sad,” Taylor said. “But there’s such a feeling of love and warmth when you go to church. You’re enclosed in God’s arms, and you feel safe. And you feel like you’re home, or what a home should be.”
“I have two hopes,” Bishop Brennan said before the Mass. “One of them is that this is part of the Eucharistic Revival — there’s certainly that hope for us to rediscover and reinvigorate our faith in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.”
He said that will happen “through our prayers of adoration, visiting the churches, and being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We will renew that deep love of Jesus who is present to us in the Eucharist.”
His second hope is that pilgrims will experience the joy as “we walk this journey together.”
He added, “This is really a reminder of the fact that Christ is present in our city, here in Brooklyn and in Queens. So together we walk with one another, but all of us together are walking with Jesus.”
Father Joseph Gibino, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s vicar for evangelization and catechesis, concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Brennan and Father Patterson.
Earlier, he explained that the pilgrimage is a direct result of the synod, during which Catholics in the diocese asked for greater collaboration between deaneries, their deans, and parishes. He also noted that the journey connects with the national Eucharistic Revival.
“Our adoration pilgrimage for the Lenten season is a reflection of everything we’ve heard at the synod,” Father Gibino said. “And that makes it even more dynamic because Pope Francis hopes that the synodal experience of being one Church, journeying together, will take hold.
“And here we are, as a diocese, literally journeying through the Lenten season, from church to church to church. It’s really exciting.”
The pilgrimage will also address other synod goals, such as more of an emphasis on youth and young adults and adult faith formation.
Andy Marte, a catechist at St. Barbara Parish in Bushwick, received ashes and got his passport stamped at the cathedral, and he is excited about getting at least 20 stamps this Lent.
“I was thinking about doing something similar with the students that I teach,” Marte said. “This is an awesome experience to go through it myself first. I have about 20 students, and their generation is really hungry to get involved in community. I think that’s what the Church offers.
“So, I’m really excited about being a part of this journey,” Marte added. “And I’m even more excited to start posting online the different experiences at each church and their different histories and architecture.”
Diane DeBernardo, a parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Windsor Terrace, said she is also excited to visit other churches and worship in them.
“I saw the article in The Tablet this past week about this pilgrimage and I was pretty excited about the chance to visit the churches throughout Brooklyn and Queens,” she said after the Mass. “And there are so many beautiful ones to see, and different neighborhoods.”
Samuel Romanzo, chairman for the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens, is a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Bayside. He described how he typically attends Ash Wednesday services near the office where he works in Manhattan.
But, he noted, starting this year’s Lenten pilgrimage with Bishop Brennan at the cathedral was a great opportunity.
“This is a great opportunity to remind ourselves that it is a welcoming place,” Romanzo said. “It’s a place where God is.
“And at the same time, the parishes have been selected by their deans, so they have to do some preparation. And they’ll come together as well to create a welcoming environment. I think the whole thing is just fantastic.”
Father Gibino said plans for the pilgrimage began last fall following “a casual conversation” with Bishop Brennan in which the bishop described a similar program he experienced in 2020 while serving as the bishop for Columbus, Ohio.
Bishop Brennan said that pilgrimage was called “40 Days of Adoration” with a goal to help bring Ohio Catholics back to Mass following the pandemic.
Back in Brooklyn, diocese officials saw an opportunity to create a unique Lenten opportunity that aligns with the synod and the Eucharistic Revival, Father Gibino said.
Carving out time for the pilgrimage is a major commitment involving some strategizing to navigate transportation throughout the diocese, Bishop Brennan said.
More information can be found online at dioceseofbrooklyn.org/LentenPilgrimage.