A profound experience with the Eucharist during Mass in his freshman year at Texas A&M University compelled Charlie McCullough to make Jesus the center of his life.

“Every decision that I’ve made after that has been a small step in that relationship and a small response to that invitation,” said McCullough, a 22-year-old north Texas native. “And now the invitation is him saying, ‘Come and follow me,’ as we go on pilgrimage across the United States.”

McCullough is one of 24 young adults who will be journeying with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament along four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes leading to the National Eucharistic Congress. The “perpetual pilgrims” will begin their treks May 17-19 — the weekend of Pentecost — from San Francisco; New Haven, Connecticut; Brownsville, Texas; and the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota.

Their routes — a combined 6,500 miles — will converge eight weeks later in Indianapolis for the July 17 opening of the five-day congress in Lucas Oil Stadium. Along the way, the pilgrims will go through small towns, large cities and rural countryside, mostly on foot, with the Eucharist carried in a monstrance designed particularly for this unprecedented event.

“This will be the biggest Eucharistic procession in world history,” said Kai Weiss, a perpetual pilgrim studying theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington. “I think Jesus will sanctify this land in an unimaginable way, even invisibly and in an unseen way. But obviously, we will be visible and we will be easily noticed, and I just look forward to what Christ in the Eucharist can bring to other people.”

Weiss, 27, grew up in Regensburg, Germany, where elaborate Corpus Christi processions are commonplace, and people are familiar with Europe’s long history of walking pilgrimages, he said. Last year, he participated in a two-day walking pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Altötting with about 4,000 people, where pilgrims sang hymns and prayed the rosary along the way.

“That really communal aspect is so beautiful about professions and pilgrimages — that they bring us together as a church, and that since they’re also public, they can also bring in other people,” Weiss said. “It’s a wonderful way of expressing our faith and our joy.”

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and National Eucharistic Congress are major parts of the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative launched in 2022 by the U.S. bishops to inspire a deeper love and reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist. The pilgrimage is modeled on the Gospel account of Jesus’ journey with two disciples to Emmaus after his resurrection.

In October, the National Eucharistic Congress issued a call for perpetual pilgrims and received more than 100 applications. Criteria included being a baptized and practicing Catholic between the ages of 19-29, be in good physical condition and capable of walking long distances, and be committed to upholding church teachings. Backgrounds in ministry, service, leadership and pilgrimage experience were of special interest, according to organizers.

The perpetual pilgrims were chosen after multiple rounds of interviews and follow-up screenings, organizers said in a March 11 media release announcing the pilgrims.

In February, the pilgrims met for a retreat in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they received spiritual formation from Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, who serves as chairman of the National Eucharistic Revival, as well as National Eucharistic Congress staff and priests with pilgrimage and media experience.

Most of the pilgrims are graduate or undergraduate students, and some work for mission-oriented apostolates and nonprofits. “A common thread for all was a profound encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist that they were inspired to share with others,” according to the media statement.

Organized by Modern Catholic Pilgrim, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that promotes U.S. walking pilgrimages and biblical hospitality, the pilgrimage routes include stops at sacred landmarks including saints’ shrines and diocesan cathedrals.

“I am humbled by the commitment demonstrated by those selected to serve as Perpetual Pilgrims this summer,” said Will Peterson, Modern Catholic Pilgrim’s founder and president, in a media statement. “Their excitement at serving as stewards of this unprecedented National Eucharistic Pilgrimage shook the walls at our kickoff retreat. I cannot wait for the rest of the U.S. Catholic Church to walk with our Eucharistic Lord alongside these amazing individuals….”

From OSV News