By Andrew Morgan
MADISON – Fathers Francis Orozco and Thomas Schaefgen, O.P., also known as the Friars on Foot, celebrated Mass at Madison St. Francis Wednesday, June 15, at 7 a.m., about halfway through their three-state pilgrimage from one end of their territory in New Orleans to the other in Memphis. Their route began in New Orleans on May 29, taking them around Lake Pontchartrain, and then north through Mississippi. They hope to reach Memphis by June 29.
Priests, lay ministers and parishioners have welcomed them at every stop so far, often walking part of their journey with them. Anyone is welcome to walk and pray with them. They also welcome donations of food, water, bandages and especially sunscreen.
Earlier in the week, they spent the night at Jackson St. Therese Parish and celebrated Mass Monday at 8 a.m., followed by a light breakfast. From there they walked to St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson, visiting with the only other Dominicans in the diocese. They enjoyed lunch with the sisters and employees before they continued on their way to Madison, accompanied by four women from Flowood St. Paul Parish.
Their mission statement, as found on their website, reads: “We will encounter people of goodwill from many denominations and faith traditions, some who will be glad to see us, most will be curious, some will want to join us, and many will have questions. Direct and personal encounters with the people we meet on the way show an Order and Church that is not afraid to go outside of its doors. Our mission is simple yet far reaching.”
Father Schaefgen echoed this in his homily at Saint Francis, describing their desire to walk in the footsteps of the masters. “That is our desire, to walk in the footsteps of St. Dominic, who walked in the footsteps of the Apostles, who walked in the footsteps of Jesus.” Jesus never walked through Jackson, but he does now, through all of us in his Holy Church.
He described how the prophet Elijah was followed so closely by his student that Elisha was covered in the dust which fell from his master’s feet. In many ways, Father Schaefgen remarked, he and his fellow friar hope to walk in the dust of the master. “Our goal is much more to build an awareness of the Order, of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. It’s a different kind of mission, at least in appearances, to Dominic’s.”
Father Orozco explained that such a contemplative experience, albeit a suffering one, could appeal to someone who seeks more than simply going to church every Sunday. “Something else, too, is that this is a very traditional thing. Jesus made pilgrimages and so do many Jewish people,” he noted. “That’s one reason why we’re doing it, going back to our roots as Dominicans. We are here to spread the message of Christ, on foot, on the move and in person.”
The friars enjoyed breakfast provided by Saint Francis parishioners, after which six young men from Jackson St. Richard’s ALIVE youth group arrived with youth minister Amelia Rizor and volunteer Paula Morgan. They joined the friars for their two-hour walk along Old Canton Road to Hoy Road until they reached Highway 59 towards Canton.
Upon reaching a store in Madison, the group was stopped by a passing vehicle on the road. Inside were four Franciscan friars of St. John the Baptist Province who were making their way back to Galveston, Texas. The Franciscans had been following the friars on social media and were delighted their paths crossed. The group parked at a nearby gas station and spent some time chatting. Among them, Father Richard Goodin, OFM, recorded a video for his own YouTube channel. The group said their goodbyes, promising to keep Fathers Orozco and Schaefgen in prayer and went on their way.
“We’re doing something challenging,” Father Schaefgen said. “And I think that is what the youth need to see. See that the faith is something radical and active, and that even just by walking you are following Christ.” Father Orozco added that he thinks it is a challenge that the youth are more than willing and able to embrace.
Keep up with the friars at: https://friarsonfoot.wordpress.com/ or on social media by searching #friarsonfoot.
(Andrew Morgan is a rising sophomore at The Catholic University of America and a graduate of Madison St. Joseph School.)