Hundreds of students preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation next spring will be making a pilgrimage to St. Joseph Cathedral in Burlington to meet with Bishop Christopher Coyne and connect with the Diocese of Burlington.

The pilgrimages are planned for Oct. 26, Nov. 16 and Feb. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and include the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass.

The Diocese of Burlington, through the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis and Youth and Young Adult Ministry, is sponsoring the pilgrimage retreats.

“We had a surprisingly strong response to these retreats, with both October and November filling up quickly,” said Michael Hagan, manager of religious education and catechesis. “Confirmation catechists and parish catechetical leaders shared with us that this is the kind of opportunity they are excited to share with their candidates, and they were glad we were doing these.”

The full October retreat has about 100 candidates and 30 adults planning to attend; the November one is full with about 100 candidates and 25 adults. The February retreat is also full.

“The purpose of the pilgrimage is to connect the youth of Vermont to the larger Diocese, to connect them in a personal way to our shepherd, Bishop Coyne, and to help them grow in their love of Christ and His Church,” explained Bill Gavin, director of youth and young adult ministry. “Bishop Coyne was the originator of the idea. He wanted an opportunity to interact with the confirmandi prior to the day of confirmation.”

Each pilgrimage will include ice breakers, introductions, lunch with Bishop Coyne, a talk about students’ spiritual journeys, a tour of the cathedral, a talk by Bishop Coyne about what he does during the confirmation rite, a talk about the reality of the sacraments (especially confirmation), time for prayer and/or confession and the Vigil Mass.

According to Josh Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington, a pilgrimage can be described as a sacred journey: In a pilgrimage, there is always an external and an internal component. The external component of a pilgrimage is often the destination. The pilgrim is not an aimless wanderer; rather, he or she is on a journey to somewhere. In the Christian tradition, as well as many other religious traditions, pilgrimages are made to particular holy sites. For Catholics, these holy sites often revolve around the life of Jesus, Mary or the saints. Pilgrimage sites are the tombs of saints, churches particular saints founded or places where the relics of saints are located. In these places, the pilgrim, in a physical way, connects with the history and the life of the Church.

“Pilgrimages also involve an internal component, centered around prayer,” he said. “Pilgrimages are often difficult and involve sacrifice; they invite pilgrims to encounter the unfamiliar, discover the presence of God in new ways, and rely on God in the uncertain and difficult points encountered on a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages take us out of the ordinary way of life, if only for a short time, and give us a way to deepen our faith, connect deeper with the Church (and the Communion of Saints) and honor God.”

Gavin said it is important that young people become familiar with their cathedral, the “cathedra” or “seat” of the bishop of Burlington. “It is where we can be united as Catholics here in the Green Mountain State. The ancient practice of going on a pilgrimage is an important reminder of our earthly pilgrimage that culminates in the heavenly Jerusalem someday in heaven.”

For the youth of the Diocese of Burlington, the pilgrimage to the cathedral is not simply a visit to just another church. “Rather, it is an opportunity for them to leave their day to day activities and reflect on the Sacrament of Confirmation and what that Sacrament might mean for them. In the pilgrimage to the cathedral, they will have the opportunity to venerate the relic of a link of the chains of St. Peter, being reminded that through the Sacrament of Confirmation, they are called to greater unity not just with their parish or even the local Church in Vermont, but with the universal Church,” Perry said.

“We hope that youth will have two major takeaways. First, we hope they become more familiar with the cathedral and Bishop Coyne and recognize the connection their parish has with the wider Catholic Church,” Hagan explained. “Second, we hope that candidates better understand the Sacrament of Confirmation as they continue preparing throughout the year.”