fbpx arrow-leftarrow-rightaudio closedivot-right emailfacebook firesidegoogle-podcastsinstagramituneslinklogo-fullmicrophoneread searchsnapchatsoundcloudspotifytwitterutg-door-solidutg-doorvideo x youtube

I didn’t plan my weekend trip to Chicago to be spent visiting and praying in seven different Catholic churches, but an announcement at the Sunday morning Mass at my friend’s parish intrigued me. There was going to be a “Seven Churches Pilgrimage,” one announcement said. Meet at the school bus in the such-and-such parking lot on Holy Thursday night, and bring five dollars for the gas.

I’ve done a lot of churchy things in my day, but this was one I didn’t know. So, a few weeks later, I called the church and asked for the details. I was told that throughout Holy Thursday night, the faithful visit seven churches in the neighborhood and pray at their altars of repose, united with Jesus during Holy Week.  

Now, I was more than intrigued; I was hooked.  

I began doing research, more enamored with each additional fact. Take these, for instance— 

  • The devotion is traditionally credited to St. Philip Neri, who lived in Rome in the 16th century.  
  • Each place is meant to correspond with the stops made by Jesus between the Last Supper and his Crucifixion.  
  • The visits recall Jesus in Gethsemane, Jesus before Annas, Jesus before Caiaphas, Jesus before Pilate, Jesus before Herod, Jesus before Pilate again, and Jesus crowned with Thorns.  
  • The travel between places can encourage one to recall the shuffle of Jesus as a prisoner for our salvation. 
  • The devotion is still practiced in Rome but also in countries like Poland, Mexico, and the Philippines. This fact is so astounding to me because those countries are so far apart! But, also, of course, so united in faith.  

As I was learning about this, I also worked at a parish in Detroit, Ste. Anne. The devotion lit a small flame inside me, so I called a few local churches, organized a few buses, printed a few worship aids and…we did it! The faithful responded, signing up for bus rides and telling me stories like, “I remember my grandmother telling me about this when I was a child.”  

We visited, sang and prayed. 

It’s been several years since, now.  

There’s been a pandemic between then and today.  

I’m three jobs removed from that space. 

But…the devotion has remained in my life.  

During the pandemic shutdown, I printed off the worship aids from my home printer and walked my suburban neighborhood with my then-boyfriend, bundled in winter coats and holding TJ Maxx candles. We stopped at the seven closest churches to my house, praying outside each locked door. 

Last year, I entered St. Hedwig, the entire church pitch-dark, and was startled by a person stirring in a pew. It made me realize how scary it would have been to be sleeping in Gethsemane before being woken by a torch-bearing crowd. My flight response to the person at church brought me a new compassion for the disciples who fled in fear.

I think that’s the invitation of Holy Week—to enter into it, to make it come alive to your senses and imagination. It reminds me almost of the recycling arrows, each pointing back into the other: a God who became human, like us. And now, we try to imitate him, and around and around we pursue each other, learning more and growing closer as we do.

Here’s something delightful: the 7 Churches pilgrimage continues in the Archdiocese of Detroit! Select parishes stay open late into the night for adventurous pilgrims to stop in.
Stop in.  

Pray a few prayers. 

Maybe at this church, you read along to a worship aid they hand you.  

Maybe at that church, you just breathe in and out a few times.  

It stretches late into the night.  

Maybe you don’t “feel” anything.  

But faith isn’t just about feeling. It’s about doing, too. It’s about choosing the actions and showing up, like any relationship.  

And grace abounds. It abounds along forsythia hedges, in kitchens where grandmas prep for Easter. It abounds all Holy Week long. It abounds at the Holy Thursday nights my grandmother attended in Hamtramck when she was young and in all the blessed and broken spots in our neighborhoods and hearts. Because God is always moving. He just wants to be with us. 

So that’s why I like to enter into Holy Week by first entering into seven dark churches and candle-lit sanctuaries. In the holy spaces where contemplative voices sing Taize songs before the Eucharist, “Stay with me, remain here with me.” I do it so I can be with him, too.