Plans to walk for more than a year; to Texas and then to West Coast
By Christopher M. Riggs
It wasn’t a coincidence that Mark Byerly started his pilgrimage to visit 150 Catholic sites on July 25. That day is the Feast of St. James, whose remains, housed in a cathedral at the end of a grueling European pilgrimage called El Camino de Santiago, are the subject of veneration.
Byerly isn’t walking from France to Spain, as do Camino pilgrims, he is walking throughout the United States to visit Catholic shrines, including a large number of sites of perpetual Eucharistic adoration..
The former seminarian is making the pilgrimage because of the spiritual state of the world.
“I guess it just got to a point where I have been looking at this world and church situation for years now. I don’t know, for whatever reason, it just got to a point for me that I couldn’t sit anymore and just continue living in the world and just do the work of the world anymore.”
So, like a spiritual Forrest Gump, Byerly left his job as a restaurant manager, to begin walking from his hometown of Newark, Delaware, to pray for his family – some of whom have fallen away from the faith – and for the world.
“In the end, if a person dedicates his life to God only to save his own family, there is no other better purpose, really,” he said in an interview at the Chancery in Wichita on Thursday, Sept. 19.
Byerly walked and prayed to Maryland first, because of its historical connection to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to stop at the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, Md. On the way he visited the perpetual adoration chapel at a church in Westminster, Md.
Originally he planned to stop at 50 locations across the country. “But then when I realized that there were so many locations of perpetual Eucharistic adoration, I immediately said 150, which represents all the Hail Mary’s of the complete 15 decade rosary – so it’s a lot of places to go to.”
The next leg of his pilgrimage would begin after his annual summer trip to visit a professor who teaches at St. Benedict College in Atchison, Kan. Byerly prudently decided to save the soles of his walking shoes, though, and took a bus from Maryland to Kansas. After visiting his friend in Atchison, a perpetual adoration site, and St. Benedict’s Abbey, he resumed his trek.
“So, I’ve been walking since Atchison, Kansas, and I’ll finish the pilgrimage walking,” he said during a five-day stay in Wichita where he visited the city’s perpetual adoration chapels and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
“Wichita has more (perpetual adoration sites) than any other place I’ve been,” he said, adding that after Wichita he is up to 18 pilgrimage stops, with 132 remaining.
Byerly said he is making the pilgrimage because he became convinced that he had to do something radical. “When our Blessed Mother at Fatima said to pray and make reparation for all the things that are coming…well, those things are here,” he said. “Ultimately, souls are being lost.”
He originally thought of the spiritual journey about five years ago, he said. “At the time I really did not have the necessary faith to do it. I found any possible excuse to eventually not go. In the end, it was just simply not trusting in God and in his providence to take care of me.”
His life’s journey has taken him on other spiritual routes. In 1984 Byerly became a novice of the Legion of Christ, worked for the order in Ireland and in the United States, and studied philosophy and theology in Spain and Rome. He left the Legion in 1993 – before his ordination – with the intent of someday returning, because he had problems with elements of the “Legion’s spirituality and its apostolic methodology” that he could not reconcile within himself. He believes, now, there can be no such return.
So, today, he is putting one foot in front of the other with everything he owns – including a tent – on his back, having sold or given away everything he owned to make the pilgrimage.
Before leaving Wichita, he spent part of the day at the city’s library where he could use the internet to plan another portion of his pilgrimage down through Oklahoma and Texas, and on westward through New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
There are many challenges, Byerly said, but he has faith that God will take care of him.
“I’ve learned that when I go to a new town – aside from first praying to the angel of the town for his intercession – I make sure I announce myself in the little town hall and let the local police know that I’m there and even find out from them where I should lay down my tent,” he said.
“Nothing bad has happened, yet. I still have not been bitten by any dogs. But if I am bitten, the Lord himself, I suppose, will be in the bite.”