Catholics begin annual pilgrimage to Cataldo Mission

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Catholics from across Kootenai County began their three-day annual pilgrimage Friday to the Catlado Mission this weekend. Here, they walk on East Mullan Avenue to East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, where they follow the Centennial Trail to Higgens Point before curving north to make camp north of Wolf Creek Lodge.

Faith is impossible to humanly quantify.

The least a group of Post Falls Catholics could do Friday was try to measure each step of devotion using their Fitbits.

“It’s a healthy, sometimes-challenging process,” Jason Klaske, a Harrison resident who attends Immaculate Conception Church in Post Falls, said as he turned south along the North Idaho Centennial Trail, heading toward East Mullan Avenue onto East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. “But spiritually, this walk is an opportunity for a group of us getting together, a time to build good camaraderie from within our faith.”

Klaske is one of what organizers estimate will reach 350 followers who will trek east to the Cataldo Mission this weekend in their Pilgrimage of Reparation and Prayer for the Sanctity of Life. Catholics from across Kootenai County and from as far away as Calgary, Alberta, began the three-day pilgrimage Friday at 5:45 a.m. in the Immaculate Conception parking lot.

“It’s a sacrifice, sure,” Klaske added as the sun hit high noon Friday. “I’ll feel a little bit of pain, a little bit of heat. But that’s how we honor our Lord’s sacrifice and the name and spirit of Christ.”

In groups of 20 to 25 adults and children, area Catholics and church visitors walked through Friday morning from Post Falls to Coeur d’Alene, where they would later follow the Centennial Trail to Higgens Point before curving north to make camp north of Wolf Creek Lodge.

“I think it’s wonderful to see the everybody’s willingness to make this journey every year,” 11-year pilgrimage veteran Stephanie Bissing of Coeur d’Alene said as the road tilted up, ascending toward the Terrace Condos. “You’d think we would be tired at the end of each day’s journey, but the moment we get to camp, we feel invigorated. The next morning, we wake up feeling refreshed. It’s an inspiration.”

This morning, the group will pack its gear and head east from Wolf Lodge Creek to Cedar Creek Road before cutting south to Lakes Divide Road, curving around the saddle before stopping for the night just north of Rose Lake. Sunday morning, the congregation will rise and finish its journey at the Cataldo Mission.

“We should reach the mission sometime around noon or 12:30 p.m.,” Hendrick Mills said, “give or take.”

As the congregation voyages east, its numbers will multiply with additional believers along the route, as it does each year. Once the congregation reaches its Cataldo destination, the group will celebrate and worship in a Solemn High Traditional Latin Mass within the Mission of the Sacred Heart, the oldest building in Idaho. By the end of their journey, they will have traversed just over 50 miles.

“Mine says 51.4 miles,” a pre-teen trekker corrected, pointing to his Fitbit.

“Mine says 45,” another child chimed in.

The Mission of the Sacred Heart was built between 1850 and 1853 by Catholic missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. A landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, the building is surrounded now within Old Mission State Park and is a North Idaho must-see for tourists. Mills regaled in both the mission’s history and the pilgrimage’s message.

“We’re trying,” Mills said, “to sanctify our souls for God, and we’re praying for an end to abortion.”

During this year’s trek, organized by the Society of St. Pius X but open to all Catholics, pilgrims are praying with a purpose, hoping God will intervene in the practice of abortion.

“We pray people will realize, no matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s a human life,” 18-year-old Cecilia Johnson said. “And it’s a great way to connect better with our priests and with God for a better spiritual life. It’s a way for us to praise God and earn our graces.”

For others, the journey is far more simple and far more personal.

“We’re doing this in reparation,” Michael Uribe of Post Falls said. “We’re doing this in penance for our sins.”

The pilgrims might follow God’s word, but they’re prepared for mortal needs. Along with first aid kits, scheduled breaks, food and water, the group will get a helping hand from a U-Haul truck, meeting the flock at each overnight rally point with each member’s camping gear. A team will trail behind for medical support. And, in case a follower needs spiritual support, the throng comes equipped with four priests for mobile confession.

“Spiritually, I enjoy it,” Klaske said. “It’s just a time of reflection and prayer. That’s what it’s all about.”

“Sure,” Bissing admitted, “it can be hard, and you do feel some pain. But when you think about what the Lord gave, what he sacrificed, a little blister is nothing compared to that.”

“I was so excited the first time I did this when I was 10 [years old],” Johnson recalled. “I still get excited. It’s an amazing experience, and it’s so good for the soul.”

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