Friars to make pilgrimage on foot, will say Mass, promote vocations

IMAGE: CNS illustration/courtesy Southern Dominican Province

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) — The idea of
making a walking pilgrimage in the United States took root about four years ago
when Dominican Fathers Francis Orozco and Thomas Schaefgen were studying
together for the priesthood.

They saw the movie, “The
Way,” featuring Martin Sheen, who portrayed a father honoring his late son’s
memory by completing the 450-mile Camino de Santiago, the “Way of St.
James,” a pilgrimage route across Spain taken for centuries by pilgrims.

“We had both studied abroad
in Spain, but we thought, why don’t we do something more local, something in
this country?” said Father Orozco, chaplain of the Catholic Student Center
at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “We looked up places, and there
really weren’t any established pilgrimages in the U.S., so we said, ‘Let’s make
up our own.'”

From that seed sprouted “Friars
on Foot,” a 478-mile pilgrimage on foot from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee,
which will begin after the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church in New
Orleans May 29 and arrive in Memphis June 29.

Folks can follow the two young
friars and their travels at the website

Father Orozco, 33, and Father
Schaefgen, 32, who is director of the Catholic Student Center at Tulane
University, will wear their white Dominican habits and take small backpacks
with water and other essentials such as sunscreen, but they will carry no money
or cellphones.

“We want to do this very
minimally,” Father Orozco told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.said. “We will not carry any money and we
will sort of beg. We hope people will provide us with apples and granola bars. We
don’t plan to use any money. We will carry ID cards and medical insurance cards
in case that’s needed. We’ve compromised with our superior that we will have
somebody update the website every time we reach a destination.”

The friars plan to stay
overnight at Catholic churches or with Catholic families along the way,
celebrating Mass and even giving history and vocation talks about the
800-year-old congregation — the Order of Preachers — whose earliest members
were itinerant preachers, walking from town to town.

They will average about 16 miles
a day. There are only two stops in Mississippi without Catholic churches — Pickens
and West — and on those nights they probably will stay at a local Protestant

The friars are encouraging
people to join them on the walk, if only for an hour or two.

“We will have a pilgrim
rule, and part of it will be to the pray the rosary and the Liturgy of the
Hours every day, but that won’t take up the entire time,” Father Orozco
said. “If there are people with us, we can talk about whatever they would
like to talk about.”

Since walking along interstate
highways is prohibited, the Dominicans will take local and state highways. The pilgrimage
route will basically track Highway 51 north to Memphis.

The pilgrimage will conclude
June 29 at St. Peter Church in Memphis, the National Shrine of St. Martin de

So what do their families and
their fellow friars think?

“As we progressed, the
first reaction was the question ‘why’?” Father Orozco admitted. “Then
it was just a matter of explaining. In many ways, I’m glad it’s taken four
years to plan it because it gave them time to soften up to the idea. We
presented this to the province a couple of years ago, and I think the vague
response was, ‘These are young guys. Once they’re ordained priests they’ll
forget about it.'”


“I bet some of the friars
forgot about it,” Father Orozco said. “Some said, ‘I guess they’re
really going.’ I had one student tell me, ‘You know, it’s very humid in
Mississippi, right?’ By and large, 99 percent are excited about it.”

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is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the
Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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