Knocking on God’s door — carrying on the tradition of Holy Thursday pilgrimages

Categories: Around the Diocese


April 11, 2014, edition
By Kristi Anderson

On Holy Thursday, a day when Catholic churches worldwide recall the suffering and loneliness Christ experienced the night before he died, Hayat Deeb, a parishioner St. Peter Parish, which is twinned with St. Paul Parish, both in St. Cloud, will honor a long time Catholic tradition — a solemn pilgrimage to at least seven different churches in the area. This rich ancient practice is celebrated in many countries around the world, including Deeb’s native country, Lebanon. She moved to St. Cloud nearly 40 years ago and continues the tradition here.hayat-deeb

“In Lebanon, we walked to the different churches,” Deeb shared. “Here I have to drive. But the tradition is the same. We go in and sit in the church for a few minutes, say hello to Jesus to let him know we are there and spend a few minutes in prayer to remember his journey toward Good Friday.”

Deeb likes to go earlier in the day before the evening Mass, the commemoration of the Last Supper and the washing of the feet. Sometimes she goes alone, sometimes with friends. This year, her long time friend Helen Ryan hopes to join her.

For Ryan, the idea of traveling from church to church touched her deeply.

“It reminds me of the way Jesus was forced from place to place,” Ryan said. “It will be so profound to stop at each location and remember the way our Lord was treated as he was being moved from one place to another.”

Ancient Roman tradition

Some claim that this ancient pilgrimage originated in Rome, where pilgrims visited the seven basilicas on Maundy Thursday. Seminarians from the Diocese of St. Cloud studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome will participate in a similar procession called the Seven Church Walk that will take place April 16.

One student explained that this pilgrimage was made popular by St. Philip Neri as a preparation for the principal feasts of the year — Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. The pilgrimage visits the four papal basilicas along with Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, and St. Sebastian Outside the Walls.

“It is a real gift to be able to pray at the ancient churches of Rome,” said Deacon Jeremy Theis, seminarian for the Diocese of St. Cloud. “Most were built between the fourth century and 10th century A.D., but some have origins going back to the first century as places where St. Peter lived, or where some of the early martyrs gave their lives.

“For more than 1,600 years pilgrims have been coming to many of these places to pray,” he continued. “Being a part of that helps serve as a reminder that the church has been here long before us and will remain long after us.”

Walking with Jesus

Similarly, Deeb’s participation in this deeply-rooted tradition helps her recall the loneliness Jesus suffered and she envisions herself accompanying Jesus on his journey toward the cross, just as the disciples stayed with Jesus on the Mount of Olives.

“Jesus asks so little of us,” she explained, “just one hour spent praying with him. Holy Week is such a special time and I want to make each moment sacred. When I wake up in the morning on Holy Thursday, I know what I am going to do and how I am going to spend the day. It is holy and humbling.

“This is the biggest holiday the church has,” she added. “We get so busy with our lives, our kids, society and jobs that we forget what is really important and the tradition can help us remember. We should insist on keeping these traditions, especially those that belong to God. He sacrificed himself for us, and I hope we all can thank him and appreciate what he did for us.”

Deeb plans to visit the Poor Clare’s Monastery which is near her home in Sauk Rapids, then Sacred Heart Church, Sauk Rapids, the St. Cloud Hospital Chapel where she prays for the suffering, her home churches of St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Anthony Church, St. Cloud, and St. Joseph Church, Waite Park. Some adjustments will be made if a church she is visiting doesn’t happen to be open.

“Some parishes are closed during the day for fear of vandalism or other reasons,” Deeb said. “If I get to a parish and it is closed, I just stand outside, pray an Our Father and a Hail Mary, make the Sign of the Cross, knock on God’s door and say, ‘Lord, I am here with you, please be with me, too.’ ”