The Pascua Florida pilgrimage took place last year with a small crew of pilgrims, but this year the pilgrimage was back in full force. Easter week 2021, April 6th–11th, was the date for the ninth annual installment of the pilgrimage.
“The main objective of this pilgrimage is to show the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in this world,” said Fr. Marc Vernoy, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Sanford, FL. “We cannot understand anything if we do not know our own roots, and the roots of the Catholic people in this country are here in Florida.”
The pilgrimage route runs over 100 miles from Sanford in the heart of the state to St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast. Catholics from around the country returned to hike the route, passing through semi-tropical forests, canoeing down rivers, and walking along the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, camping each night along the way. The pilgrimage is made in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ and Our Lady, whose shrine of Nombre de Dios houses the miraculous statue of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine.
“We started the pilgrimage with 102 pilgrims,” said Tim Mallory, coordinator and chief assistant to Fr. Vernoy for the pilgrimage. “We arrived in St. Augustine with about 145 pilgrims. For the Sunday Mass, meanwhile, over 300 faithful attended and received Communion. Fr. Vernoy said that the devil was working overtime this year, because the number of obstacles was greater than on any of our previous pilgrimages – one example was that on a single day, three of our support vehicles broke down. I didn’t have to walk this year to gain my graces, but you learn to face it by taking time out and ask our Lord and Lady to help us solve our problems.”
For this year’s pilgrimage, the Scouts played a prominent part, walking in formation in unform, assisting with duties around the camps, and serving as an honor guard at the High Mass on Sunday.
St. Augustine and Nombre de Dios
In April of 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon planted the first cross in the sand near modern-day St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565 – half a century before the New England pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock – Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded the town of St. Augustine and Nombre de Dios mission. On the same date, Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales held high the cross and celebrated the first parish Mass.
With the founding of Nombre de Dios, an extensive missionary effort was initiated throughout Spanish La Florida. Two hundred years before the first Spanish mission in California, Nombre de Dios and over 140 missions stretched from St. Augustine south to the Florida Keys, north to the Chesapeake Bay, and west to Pensacola. The Spanish settlers established the first shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in this land under the title Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto – “Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery.” The chapel and beautiful statue are dedicated to motherhood.
General Pilgrimage Information
- Total Distance: over 100 miles by foot and canoe
- Daily Mass and Confession
- Evening campfires, fellowship time, music
- Part-time participation options are available
- Sponsorship of priests, seminarians, and pilgrims is an excellent way to participate