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By: Agnes Berki, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Natural and Physical Sciences

Dr. Berki writes the following to her friend Rose Marie, who is disabled and not able to make the trek from Paris to Chartes.

Have a good pilgrimage, Rose Marie!

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” said Heraclitus. This Pentecost, for the third time, I walked the Chartres Pilgrimage in France, a 60-mile (100-km) trek from Paris to Chartres,
in three days. You would think if it is done once it is done forever, yet it is different every time I go. It is different, for I am different as the years pass. I would hope that I get wiser with age, but I definitely get older and feel that way: in my knee and in my lungs. When I went the first time in 2006, I was healthy and bold. It was very difficult to walk it, though. In 2010, I was not that healthy anymore, for I had bursitis of the knee. It was a miracle that I was able to walk it, but I did; I made the pilgrimage with a brace on my knee. This summer I walked the pilgrimage with asthma. Oh, and I shall not forget the knee, although I did not need braces this time.

Why go back again and again to walk the same pilgrimage? The answer is simple. I did it for the same reason everybody else walks a pilgrimage: to offer my prayers and physical sufferings for a particular end. My intentions changed as the years passed, as you can imagine. In 2006, the walk was offered for my vocation in life; the second time for my family and friends. Since recently I have more responsibilities, my intentions this time included my benefactors and people under my care. “For to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). I feel the weight of that statement very much.

I’ll let you read the description of the pilgrimage from the organizers’ Web site: “The Paris-Chartres Pilgrimage is a three-day walk from Notre-Dame de Paris to Notre-Dame de Chartres, approximately 60 miles. Pilgrims are organized into groups of 20-60 people who are referred to as ‘chapters.’ The ‘walk’ is through the streets of Paris, and then into the countryside. It can be muddy, rocky, and demanding, but the rewards of such a penitential exercise are eternal. Good sturdy shoes are a must. Each chapter is accompanied by at least one chaplain, who hears confession and gives spiritual direction to each pilgrim who avails himself of the priest’s presence. This pilgrimage originated in the 12th century with interruptions for the various wars our European brethren seem to find themselves in from time to time. Pilgrims will meet in front of Notre-Dame de Paris at 6 a.m. on 26th May 2012, and the journey of faith and foot begins.” (1).

Here is a nine-minute recording of the walk with singing. They sing my favorite song.

What is a chapter? Five adults, including me, and 13 teenagers, young adults, traveled from my parish, Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in New Jersey, to walk the pilgrimage. I was one of the chaperons. The adults included my pastor, Father Benoit Guichard, who is French, a couple and a seminarian. It was an experienced group. Many of us walked this and other short pilgrimages previously. We were to join a small group from Versailles to form one chapter of about 40 people.  The chapter, or brigade, is the unit where one walks as a pilgrim. In a chapter, we walk together, sing together, pray together and look out for one another. It is like a family that takes care of its members and helps each member to reach the goal. In this case, the goal is to walk the 60 miles and reach the Chartres Cathedral. That is a chapter, the family of a pilgrim.

Our Lady of Chartres. Picture from:

The first day I was very grateful for having the Mass of the day in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. As you just read, we had to meet there at 6 a.m. During the walk, there is a Mass scheduled for every day, usually in the middle of the day. This year the time of the Mass on the first day was changed to the beginning of the day, so it was in the cathedral. The Mass was beautiful and included a greeting to all the pilgrims in their own languages. They had it in English, but of course not in Hungarian. They did not know that any Hungarian was there; I was walking under the American flag, so to speak, so no hard feelings from me. Then 5,000 pilgrims started from Paris toward Chartres, led by the statue of Our Lady of Chartres, with banners and crosses lifted high by the many chapters, marching to hymns such as my favorite, “Charter sonne, Chartres t’apelle, Gliore, honneour au Christ-Roi.” Why was I grateful for the change of Mass to the morning? You may wonder. First, it is quite fitting to start with a Mass at Notre Dame of Paris, since the walk is, after all, called the Paris-Chartres Pilgrimage. But most important for me, it allowed the walk through Paris to be the slowest I have experienced so far. Having asthma, I dreaded the thought of walking out of Paris, for the pilgrimage was always pretty much “running” out of the city. Perhaps a big city such as Paris could not afford to have so many streets blocked for a very long time early on a Saturday morning. Starting with an early Mass allowed more time for us to leave Paris. It meant a slower, more even pace. I had no problem breathing and keeping up with my chapter! We walked over 20 miles that day.

Our Lady of Chartres leads the way.

Picture from:

Leaving Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral after the Mass on the first day.

Picture from: