From the Pacific to Kansas: Jesus’s ‘Victory March’ Comes to Campus

“This is Jesus’s victory march,” said Isaac Trotter, a high school senior from Atchison, Kansas.

We were waiting for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage to arrive. The monstrance carrying the Blessed Sacrament had begun by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and would soon cross over the Amelia Earhart Bridge into Atchison, Kansas.

Isaac (pictures, far right) would help lead the way in the procession of 1,200 people as one of 20 servers.

“Jesus gave us the Great Commission, and now he’s leading his people across the nation to Indianapolis,” Isaac said.

He was right about that. It is a victory march.

Father Jeremy Heppler, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Atchison, said the pilgrimage “Invites people from all over the nation to proclaim that Christ is King, and to ask for the Lord’s blessing upon us and our nation.”

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage started from four points — North, South, East and West — to make a sign of the cross over the nation. It is the longest Eucharistic procession in history.

Marchers had different blessings — different “victories” — to celebrate. For Father Jeremy, it was his last event with his parishioners before his reassignment to the Abbey after years of service.

“This has really excited the parishioners,” he said. “Many are participating, and many wish they could participate but can’t join in. I’m marching for those who can’t join in.”

For two deacons at the event, Deacon Nic tenBroek and Deacon Dan Schletzbaum, it this was their first event with their parishioners after being ordained the previous weekend.

For one couple on the March — David Garstecki and Hannah Ortega — it was their last big event as single people, before their wedding.

Doug and Mary Gelbach flew in from Springfield, Virginia, specifically for this event.  Their daughter is a Benedictine College student but she couldn’t make it because of ROTC duties over the summer. Her parents made the trip anyway.

“We have been to campus for lacrosse games, football games and the Scholarship Ball,” said Mary. “But we haven’t been to anything like this!”

No one had. “This is a once in a lifetime event,” said Larry Buessing, an Atchison business leader.

A hush fell over the crowd that was chatting by the roadside.

The monstrance had appeared out of a van and people were stopping mid-sentence, falling to their knees and singing O Salutaris Hostia.

Then the victory march began.

The procession was like a microcosm of the Church.

Mothers pushed strollers, and daughters-in-law pushed wheelchairs. Football players for Benedictine College wearing their summer practice uniforms passed out water. I saw store owners from town marching and the parents of the abbot of St. Benedict Abbey in town and professors from the college: chemistry, math, theology and computer science.

The Eucharist passed over the bridge and across the railroad tracks, then wound its way up cobblestone streets on its hourlong journey to campus.

It was a personal and institutional victory.

“It’s great that I get to stand up for my faith this way,” said Charlie Rziha, a high school student who lives on a farm outside town and whose father teaches theology at Benedictine. “More than that, though, it’s Jesus, and that’s indescribably great.”

Caleb Smith, a Benedictine College sophomore from Schertz, Texas, said the visit of the Blessed Sacrament to campus — “It is a chance to recommit our college to its mission.”

The college’s president, Stephen D. Minnis, planned a party following Vespers with the monks, providing food for hundreds and entertainment. Benedictine College is a premiere sponsor of the National Eucharistic Congress.

“This evening’s stop is unique,” he said. “This is the only stop at a Benedictine Abbey on the entire Eucharistic pilgrimage.”

“There is nothing more important than the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, so the college has made it a big priority,” he said. The U.S. Eucharistic Revival is being headed by a Benedictine College alumnus, bishop Andrew Cozzens. The official song for the Congress was written by an alumna of the college, and theologians from the college were involved in the Congress’s conference on the real presence in Denver.

Atchison’s monks prayed Vespers with the pilgrims. Even evening prayer focused on victory, Kansas style.

“You give kings their victory,” prayed Psalm 144. “Let our barns be filled to overflowing with crops of every kind, thousands of sheep in our fields, our cattle heavy with young.”

Isaac explained more of what he meant by calling this a “victory march.”

“Jesus gave us the Great Commission and we spread out all over the nation,” he said. “Now he’s gathering us together to do something great in our nation.”

I think he may be right.

This appeared at Aleteia.

Photo by The Leaven.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.