NEP Day 3: The Peace of Jesus in their Souls

This article was posted on: April 29, 2024

This parish, its parishioners, their families and friends, and the larger Sparta community will host the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage on June 9.

Spanish Mass, fraternity and procession at St. Patrick’s

Becoming a parish in 1876 and dedicated in 1907, St. Patrick Parish’s history contains touchpoints familiar to many parishes in the Diocese of La Crosse. The origins are similar: a small community gathers to celebrate Mass and worship Christ together. At this early point, the location is typically simple and small because the act of worshipping Christ is more important than where it occurs. Eventually, led by the Holy Spirit, as Romano Guardini explains in “Meditations Before Mass,” the “vital attitude absolutely necessary to transform a collection of individuals into a congregation, and a restless crowd into a holy people in the sight of God” takes root.

A fire that damages or destroys the church in its early years is not uncommon, and every time such a disaster occurs, the congregation, united in purpose and oriented to the Lord, rebuilds.

The history of our parishes “rhyme” because of the shared stoic and holy nature of our Wisconsin ancestors and the tireless efforts of our Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration to catechize and teach.  

This history is that of St. Patrick and many parishes across our 19 counties. The place where Catholics first gather may be different in degrees—it was a shanty house in Sparta, but the path from there is similar, typically a hand-built A-frame becomes a church, and a congregation becomes a parish.

We celebrate the forming of our mystical body of Christ and see joy in our shared faith story.

But in just weeks, Jesus will author a distinctly unique chapter in their history that parishioners a century later will remember with joy.

For centuries, pilgrimages have been an integral part of the Catholic tradition, serving as transformative journeys of faith that allow stillness, contemplation anique chapter in their history that parishioners a century later will remember with joy.nd an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with God. In the spirit of pilgrimage, Catholics from all walks of life will come together to embark on a national journey of prayer, reflection and communion centered around the source and summit of our faith—the Eucharist.

When the sun sets on June 8, the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will have spent two days in our diocese. These first two days are emblematic of the beautiful poetry and vibrance of our Faith. The Diocese of La Crosse will first host a soaring and fervent eucharistic rally at the La Crosse Center, where nationally renowned Catholic musicians and speakers will share their love of Christ in pure celebration. The very next day, the Blessed Sacrament will arrive at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse and adorers will be able to gaze at Him in the quiet stillness of adoration.

The sun rises on June 9, and the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will depart La Crosse, and Jesus will walk toward Sparta and beyond into the heart of our diocese.

Father Eric Berns, the pastor at St. Patrick Parish, shares “We are honored to welcome the Blessed Sacrament and the pilgrimage. We are a humble little parish in a humble town, and we have a chance to be a part of this national and historic pilgrimage. It’s an honor.”

The Strength of Faith

Sparta is home to a vibrant Hispanic community and St. Patrick Parish is their Catholic home. Father Fernando leads adoration for this group and reflects on its restorative nature. “This is the reason for adoration. We ask our Father to forgive us because we commit sins and destroy the heart of Jesus. In adoration, we repair the heart and ask Jesus to come down and sprinkle His graces on us.” As we come before the Blessed Sacrament with open hearts and minds, we are invited to examine our lives and deepen our commitment to living out the Gospel message.

Adoration is central to the St. Patrick Parish family and has expanded in frequency to several days every week. The adorers gather and the blackness engulfs the holy space. Only a single ray of intense light burns against the darkness and it illuminates the Blessed Sacrament contained within the monstrance. The gathered parishioners are awash in silence and awe. No one chats as they leave and, “they all go to bed with the peace of Jesus in their souls,” said Father Fernando.

This parish, its parishioners, their families and friends, and the larger Sparta community will host the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage on June 9. To recognize the parish’s Hispanic community, Father Fernando will celebrate an outdoor Spanish Mass at the Sparta Eagles Club (9901 State Highway 21) at 10:30 a.m. The Mass isn’t limited to Spanish speakers, and the day’s celebrations aren’t intended only for Sparta-area Catholics.

Indeed, Father Berns offered, “The most profound truth of the Eucharist is that it embodies what it means to be a universal Catholic Church. There will be a particular blessing that will come from gathering here and taking the time and the effort to travel to a different place with people one may not know because of our common faith in the Eucharist. We need visible manifestations of the unity of the Catholic Church right now because we see too much discord, disunity and rupture. So, in a time of marked disunity, we need to remember and cling to what unites us. Yes, our creed unites us together, but especially the powerful love of God in the Eucharist.”

Following the Spanish Mass, St. Patrick’s will host a lunch at the Sparta Eagles Club for the perpetual pilgrims and the assembled community to share food and fellowship. More than simply time and space spent together, these shared meals, marked by prayer and unity around a table, evoke the presence of Christ in the many meals He shared.

Once lunch is finished, the perpetual pilgrims will depart the Eagles Club at 1 p.m. and lead the eucharistic procession that processes Christ through Sparta. 

The procession returns, and while the sun sets in Sparta, the Blessed Sacrament continues towards Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Wisconsin Rapids and ultimately leads to the first National Eucharistic Congress in 83 years.

And a bookmark is placed in the St. Patrick Parish history book—the day when their parish hosted Jesus in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

What is Father Berns’ message? “I will tell them that when we are in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, especially gathered for that express purpose, we’re in the presence of love and peace not found anywhere else on Earth, even within their own homes.”

Published in the May/June 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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