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Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches

News of the Diocese

April 11, 2022

Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches
Diocesan pilgrims launch Holy Week by visiting, praying at seven churches

A steady stream of people entered the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist the morning of April 9. They weren’t there for Mass or confession. Instead, nearly 100 people turned out for the first Seven-Church Walk, a walking meditation that focused on the seven last words of Christ from the cross. About 100 people participated in the pilgrimage, although some left early and others joined the group in progress. (See photo gallery above.)

Father Richard Bona experienced one of the pilgrimages in Washington, D.C., and was so moved that he wanted to bring the event to the Diocese of Cleveland. It is a variation of what’s called the station churches in Rome, where people move from church to church as they pray during Lent. He approached his seminary classmate, Father Damian Ference, vicar for evangelization and secretary for parish life and special ministries.

“I told him to go for it,” Father Ference said.

So, Father Bona mapped out six churches on Cleveland’s West Side that are within walking distance of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. The cathedral was the starting and ending point for the pilgrimage. In addition to a meditation and short prayer time at each church, the pilgrims learned about the rich legacy of some of the diocesan parishes. Before leading the meditation, each pastor gave a brief history of his parish. They noted how the neighborhoods are changing, with gentrification taking place in many of the older areas of the West Side. As a result, there is a renewed opportunity for evangelization and parish growth.

The pilgrims stopped at:

  • The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 1007 Superior Ave. in downtown Cleveland, the mother church of the diocese, which was established in 1847. The cathedral was built 1848-1852 at its current site. The original church underwent a major expansion in the 1940s to accommodate the growing number of Catholics. Father Sean Ralph is the cathedral rector.
  • St. John Cantius, 906 Professor Ave. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. Father James Roach is pastor of the parish, which was established in 1898 to serve Polish immigrants who were settling and working nearby.
  • St. Wendelin, 2281 Columbus Road, which was established in 1903 to serve Slovak immigrants. Father Robert Kropac is pastor.
  • St. Patrick, 3602 Bridge Ave., established in 1853 to serve primarily Irish immigrants. Father Michael Gurnick is pastor. Today, Father Gurnick said some of the longtime families with roots in the parish continue to worship there. In recent years, there also has been an influx of other nationalities, including Hispanics and Liberians
  • St. Emeric, 1860 W. 22nd St., behind the West Side Market. The parish was established in 1904 to serve Hungarian-speaking immigrants. Father Bona is the pastor.
  • St. Mary’s-on-the-Flats Parish, established in 1826 by Irish immigrants, was the first parish in the city of Cleveland and also the first parish to close. It stood at the southeast corner of Columbus and Girard streets in the Flats and served as the cathedral for the diocese until the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist was built. St. Mary’s official name was Our Lady of the Lake. The frame church was built in 1838 and it closed in 1886. The dilapidated building was razed two years later. Although there is no church to visit, the pilgrims stopped by the site for a prayer and meditation. There is a mural where the church once stood that depicts the building and offers information about it.
  • St. Malachi Parish, 2459 Washington Ave., Cleveland, near what was known as the Old Angle, an area settled primarily by Irish immigrants, many of whom worked on the docks. Established in 1865, the parish is an offshoot of St. Patrick’s on Bridge. Father Gurnick serves as parish administrator. He also told the group about the robust social outreach/meal programs offered by the parish.

The group returned to the cathedral for a closing prayer and some pilgrims attended the 4:30 p.m. Palm Sunday vigil Mass.

Those participating in the pilgrimage ranged in age from elementary school students to senior citizens. As they left the cathedral in the morning, most were using umbrellas to shield themselves from a cold, sometimes slushy rain. But by the time they arrived at the first stop – St. John Cantius – the sun was popping out. Although it remained chilly, the sun stayed out the rest of the day.

Most people walked the approximately seven-mile route. A police car accompanied them for safety.

John Veres of Independence, a parishioner at Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Cleveland, said Father Bona wanted to challenge some of the young adults in the diocese to live their faith more fully. He said the pilgrimage would help people better understand Jesus’ suffering as they meditated on his last words. Veres is involved with several Catholic young adult groups in the diocese.

“The beauty of the churches is transcendent. It speaks to the soul,” he added.

At St. John Cantius, Father Roach noted how Jesus chose his words wisely when he spoke from the cross because each time he spoke, it caused him excruciating pain. Yet, he still had mercy

Father Kropac invited the pilgrims to gather near a wall sculpture at St. Wendelin depicting the crucified Jesus with the Blessed Mother and St. John the apostle at the foot of the cross. He asked the group to meditate on Jesus telling Mary to “behold her son” and St. John to “behold your mother.” He noted that often the stained-glass windows, statues and other images in the church were used to tell a story and to help spread the faith.

Participants sometimes walked silently as they meditated and prayed, while others chatted quietly. They were advised to dress for the weather and to pack a lunch. Father Bona opened St. Emeric’s hall for their lunch break.

Many members of the group posed for a photo in front of the altar at St. Patrick Church.

“These churches are so beautiful,” one pilgrim was overheard saying. “They are hidden treasures. I hope this becomes an annual event.”

Father Ference said the event also helped showcase some of the older, inner-city parishes that many people may not have visited.

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