Religious woman follows Eucharistic pilgrimage with a tent and a heart full of joy

July 8, 2024

Sister Mary Rose Chinn in her car in Imogene

Every night since she left San Francisco for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, Sister Mary Rose Chinn pitches her small tent wherever she can for some sleep. Some nights, it’s very warm. A few nights in the mountains, it was so cold she slept in her car.

“It’s too expensive in the hotels and I didn’t want to impose on parishes,” she said.

She walks miles in the summer heat and humidity wearing long sleeves and a veil.

And, she relies on God to provide food.

This is her summer vacation, though her religious community, the Handmaids of the Triune God, call it a visitation or a pilgrimage. This summer, she chose to follow Jesus in the Eucharist on the St. Junipero Serra route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage from the West Coast to Indianapolis, where thousands will gather for the 10th National Eucharistic Congress.

It seems right since she serves as a parish catechetical leader at the last of several missions set up by St. Serra in California, the Mission Basilica San Buenaventura.

The route was supposed to be 2,200 miles.

“My car has already clocked 2,400 miles and we’re only halfway,” she said with a laugh during a lunch break at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Glenwood. Sister Mary Rose was with the perpetual pilgrims last month as the National Eucharistic Procession moved from Omaha to parishes in the western part of the Diocese of Des Moines in Council Bluffs, Glenwood, Imogene, and Shenandoah.

“If they were going I-80 all the way, it would have been 2,200 miles,” she said. But the pilgrimage is bringing the Blessed Sacrament to parishes big and small along the way, following a zigzag path.

“What I like is that it is going to smaller communities,” she said. “They’re inspiring (at those parishes). Very faithful. They’re turning out during the week. They take time off of work.”

Indeed, the churches were filled to capacity at Corpus Christi in Council Bluffs, Holy Rosary in Glenwood, St. Patrick in Imogene, and St. Mary in Shenandoah when the pilgrimage came.

( AM Mass at St. Patrick in Imogene
9 AM Mass was full at St. Patrick's in Imogene on Tuesday, June 25th during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage

Sister Mary Rose said God led her to take the pilgrimage for three reasons:

  • In thanksgiving for the Eucharist. A convert to the Catholic faith, it was the Eucharist that drew her to the Church.
  • In prayer for special intentions. She carries with her intentions of her parish and prays for them along the route.
  • In reparation for sins and to encourage people to return to Mass. “The Mass is Jesus’ suffering to the Father outside of time to be present in our time for our sins and for the sins of the world,” she said.

Many Catholics have faded away from weekly Church attendance, she said. They focus on the preaching, the music, the hospitality or lack thereof of the people. But they’re missing the Eucharist.

Others have been absent because they have difficulty finding God. First, develop a prayer life, and second, be patient, said Sister Mary Rose.

“There will be times when God seems so far away. But who cares? You still have to be constant and consistent. Look at Mother Teresa. She was in darkness for years. You don’t feel anything? It’s not a question of feeling, it’s a question of faith. Do you believe Jesus loves you?”

During a 5-mile walk in some of the most oppressive summer heat of the season, Sister Mary Rose was contemplating how God answers prayers.

She said: “In whatever situation we’re in, he listens and he answers. Now, the answer might not be what we want, but he still answers. I’ve had prayers answered years later. The Lord does answer because he wants us to turn to him.”

Pilgrims carry the Blessed Sacrament on a trail from Council Bluffs to Glenwood.
Pilgrims carry the Blessed Sacrament on a trail from Council Bluffs to Glenwood.