Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- It is a pious Catholic tradition to visit seven altars of repose following Mass on Holy Thursday. With churches closed and strict social distancing in force in many places, one diocese has created a virtual pilgrimage to help Catholics offer their spiritual devotion during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Diocese of Arlington will stream a live “pilgrimage” on Thursday evening through its Young Adult Ministry Facebook page. In what the diocese believes to be the first event of its kind, those watching the stream will “visit” seven different churches in the diocese, where a priest will offer a brief reflection and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament will be broadcast.
Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry Niru De Silva told CNA that the idea for the virtual pilgrimage came after a young adult ministry coordinator asked his pastor if it would be possible to recreate the church walk online. The pastor then went to De Silva with the idea.
The virtual pilrimage will include the churches of St. Anthony’s Mission, All Saints, St. Anne, the Nativity, St. John the Apostle, Sacred heart of Jesus, and St. Andrew.
De Silva said the concept reminded him of the recent Urbi et Orbi blessing given by Pope Francis, which was broadcast around the world. He said watching that blessing was a “special grace,” and that he was particularly touched to know that he was praying alongside not only Pope Francis, but everyone around the world who was watching the broadcast.
After giving the idea of a virtual pilgrimage some thought and prayer, he realized that “there’s a special grace in this too.”
“We can, while being socially distant, have our different priests just put on a video, give a little reflection, and show Jesus to the people.”
Now, more than normal, people need to see the example of Jesus’ suffering, said De Silva.
“This is a time when a lot of us are feeling alone; there’s just lots of grief, sometimes agony and confusion. This is where Jesus in the scripture, relates to us in that. He was alone. He felt agony. And I think that can be really powerful for people.”
Unlike a traditional church walk, which requires that the churches be within close distance, the virtual pilgrimage will take “pilgrims” all over the diocese, De Silva told CNA.
“Each parish is from a different deanery–all seven deaneries of our diocese,” De Silva explained. “In a way, where it would have been really difficult to do a truly dioesean pilgrimage going to all the different parishes, in a way, we’re kind of recreating that by ‘going’ to all of the regions of our diocese.”
He said that this aspect makes it “really special.” The parishes were selected in part as they are already live streaming services and are already familiar with the technology to stream a video. De Silva hopes that this means the pilgrimage will be an “easy event to pull off virtually.”
On the day of the pilgrimage, the stream will spend 15 minutes at each of the seven parishes, before switching to the next. The pastor at each parish will provide a reflection for about five minutes, and there will be 10 minutes of silent prayer. A prayer guide, printed in both English and Spanish, will be made available for download so that pilgrims can follow along with the evening.
Most of all, De Silva hopes the virtual pilgrimage can serve as a way for people to feel connected during a unique and disrupted Lent.
“I hope that it provides a sense of normalcy,” said De Silva. “I know that this is a tradition of the Church, and to not be able to go to Jesus at this time, I think there will be a sense of loss and grief.”
By providing the virtual pilgrimage, the Arlington diocese hopes to offer a connection to usual Easter practices in unusual circumstances: “This thing that you used to do; it’s going to be different, but we’re still going to provide it to you,” said De Silva.
De Silva also said that he hopes the pilgrimage can also be a way back to the faith who would otherwise never enter a church building and would never consider making a devotional pilgrimage.
“This is something that can almost be a passive experience, that they can just click into, and encounter something for the first time–which will hopefully then draw them in deeper into the life of the Church,” he said.
“That’s a huge hope of mine.”