Nine-church walk is a New Orleans-style pilgrimage
St. Augustine, the great doctor of the church, penned the beautiful line in his Confessions: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
It’s a poetic reminder that our lives are a journey – a pilgrimage – back to our Creator, who first breathed life into us.
It’s not surprising, then, that pilgrimages play such an important role in the life of the church. In sacred Scripture, we accompany Moses leading the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land; the Magi traveling to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king; and Jesus journeying to Jerusalem for his passion and resurrection.
In the liturgy, the priest processes to the altar to begin Mass, we process around the church for the Stations of the Cross and we hold elaborate eucharistic processions with Christ exposed for adoration in the monstrance.
In New Orleans, we have a unique tradition of procession and pilgrimage on Good Friday in the “Nine-church Walk.” At least 15 Catholic churches from Napoleon Avenue down to the Central Business District and the French Quarter open their doors to pilgrims who spend the day prayerfully fasting and physically joining our Lord on the Via Crucis – the walk to Calvary.
The practice is reminiscent of the Lenten observance in Rome of attending Mass at the different station churches, and it is a wonderful opportunity to visit some of the beautiful, history-rich churches we are blessed with in New Orleans, including a few whose doors are now opened only for such special occasions.
The map of churches open on Good Friday for pilgrimages is available on the back page of this issue. Traditionally, pilgrims visit some combination of nine different churches whose proximity make it possible to visit all nine on foot. Some undertake the journey as individuals or families. Some process as parishes or through school groups or Scout troops. Families with young children sometimes drive the route or visit fewer churches.
There’s no magic formula – it’s simply a gesture of joining Christ on his journey to the cross, and, in doing so, we pray, journeying closer to him.
Anyone who would like to participate in the nine churches tradition this Lent is welcome to join the roughly 200 pilgrims who participate each year in the walk organized by Jesuit High School. The walk will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Good Friday at St. Stephen’s Church on Napoleon Avenue. At each of the nine churches, pilgrims will hear a short history of the church and pray a station of the cross with reflections written by Pope Benedict XVI. The day will conclude around 1:30 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church on Baronne Street. More information is available on the Jesuit High School website (www.jesuitnola.org).
Whatever your observance of Good Friday entails this year, may it be a reminder that our struggles and sufferings in our journey through life were shared by Jesus on his on walk to the cross, through which he ultimately gives us the hope of Easter – the hope that our hearts will, at the end of our journey, rest in God.
Brandon Briscoe is an attorney at Flanagan Partners LLP in New Orleans.