For the second year in a row, 11 Maine teens embarked on a 70-mile pilgrimage to pray for their communities and to raise awareness of issues that have impacted their lives: teen addiction, depression, and suicide.
The pilgrimage began Aug. 21 at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Augusta, Maine, and ended four days later at St. John’s Catholic Church in the city of Bangor. At night, the pilgrims camped out on the lawns at the homes of people they knew along the way.
Patrick Carter, 18, who has walked the pilgrimage both years and was one of the people who helped create the event, told CNA that the two churches were chosen because they were centrally located, and because they are “just absolutely beautiful.” He said it was important that their pilgrimage begin and end at a church, and that it just so happened that these churches were 70 miles apart.
Each day on the road, the pilgrims would pray “about three rosaries a day,” as well as the Divine Office and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Every time they encountered a cemetery, the group would stop and pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and a Glory Be for all of the souls who were buried there, especially for those in purgatory.
“It was something that we decided very early on to do because of this relating to what we’re doing,” said Carter. He also solicited prayer intentions on Facebook so he could “take the needs of the community and put them into our prayers.”
Over the four days, the pilgrims walked with a purple flag, emblazoned with a turquoise ring surrounding a scallop shell. Carter said that flag was designed to reflect their prayer intentions, purple and turquoise are colors symbolizing addiction, and the scallop shell is a traditional symbol of Christian pilgrimage linked to the tradition of St. James.
The teens said that the chose to focus their prayer on the issues of addiction and suicide as they have been directly impacted by these topics. While other walking pilgrimages often focus on ending abortion, Carter said he and his friends felt, as teens, that they should chose issues which reflected the particular struggles of young men their own age in their communities.
Maine has a higher suicide rate than the national average, and has an opioid overdose death rate that is more than double the national average.
“We were definitely looking for something that has personally affected us, but is also a major issue in the community that everybody agrees is a major issue,” said Carter. “We thought about it for a while, and then (the topics of) teen addiction, depression, and those considering suicide and the souls of those who have committed suicide really came to mind.”
After a positive community response the first year, the group decided to keep the focus on addiction, suicide, and depression.
Although not formally affiliated with the Diocese of Portland, the state’s only Catholic diocese, the group came to know each other and conceive the idea for the pilgrimage through a discernment group administered by the diocese’s vocations director.
“Fr. Seamus [Griesbach], the vocations director, was kind of pushing us to do something to really help the community,” Carter told CNA. “We thought a pilgrimage was a really good idea, so then we got a core team together and just started planning.”
They were also given a blessing before embarking on the journey, and a priest celebrated Mass for the group along the way.
In the future, Carter said he would like to expand the pilgrimage, and that they will definitely be doing it again. But for now, he plans on keeping the group small--for logistical reasons.
Part of the issue with affiliating with the diocese, Carter explained, is that the participants are all in their teens, and thus would require adult chaperones in accordance with the Diocese’s child safety policies.
“We’re waiting until some of us get a little bit older, so that we could chaperone ourselves, and then we’ll grow the pilgrimage to be statewide,” he said.
“We definitely are going to be doing it again next year.”