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Catholics Tour South Florida Churches In Revival Of Ancient Pilgrimage

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Credit Lisann Ramos
Carolyn Fetscher welcomes the pilgrims at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Miami Shores.

Those celebrating Easter this Sunday know the importance of Holy Week. Yesterday Roman Catholics from across South Florida went on a tour of seven churches to mark the beginning of this Holy Weekend. 

Carolyn Fetscher began this church pilgrimage eight years ago. She took the advice of a woman who organizes a tour in Boston and encouraged Fetscher to start her own tour here.

“It’s an ancient custom, goes back to the middle ages. There’s countries in Central and South America and Haiti that do these seven churches,” Fetscher said.

Fetscher is a former travel agent who’s familiar with organizing trips. Every year the tour visits different churches so they never repeat the same route twice.

Even after all this time Fetscher says this was by far her most "adventurous" tour.

“I’ve never had a trip where we missed lunch entirely,” Fetscher said. 

We were supposed to eat at a park in Key Biscayne around noon. Security wouldn’t let the buses in because of the Miami Open across the street.

“Because people know that the mission is really spiritual, I didn’t get any complaints. Not one. Not anybody came up to me and said, ‘Boy I’m really disappointed that we didn’t have lunch,’” Fetscher said.

 Riding Along The Bus

Those on the tour all came from separate churches. Most people didn’t know each other. What better opportunity to make friends?

Sitting behind me was a woman named Sheila Grand-Pierre. This was her first time on this Holy Thursday bus tour. She had already done the tour in Haiti. She moved here after the earthquake five years ago.

“Every time we have a stop we just have to pray one for another. It’s a good experience because everybody is there together, praying together almost for the same things. [They pray] for a family member, for friends, for the country, for the others because there’s problems everywhere," Grand-Pierre said.

Grand-Pierre attributes many of the good things in her life to prayer. When she came to the U.S. she prayed for legal status. She was granted that a week after visiting Notre Dame d'Haiti. Now she returned to the church under different circumstances. She recently lost her job.

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Sheila Grand-Pierre looking out her window as the tour bus crosses into Key Biscayne.

“Today if I'm here I know it's because I'm supposed to be here today. If I was working for sure I wouldn't be here today. So I'm really grateful to be there and I know that after, I'm gonna have something good that’s gonna happen just like always," Grand-Pierre said.

On one of the stops I met Maria Garcia from Venezuela. She’s also familiar with the tour because of where she’s from.

“Here in the United States I had never seen it. This is similar to that tradition that we have,” Garcia said.

In front of me on the bus sat Marva Wilkinson. We were cracking jokes and laughing uncontrollably whenever there was a hiccup on the tour.

Unfortunately her great attitude is coupled with a hard past. Her daughter was murdered in her home island of St. Kitts and Nevis. Fetscher took Marva under her wing over a year ago and things turned around.

“I'm feeling less depressed, I can sleep better. My family's coming along. Although there's a death, God has lifted me up to this stage where I feel obligated to assist others,” Wilkinson said.

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Credit Lisann Ramos
The pilgrims inside of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Little Havana.

Sheila and I chatted on the bus about what each stop on the tour meant to her. After a day of reflection and prayer, she left the tour with a better understanding of her struggles.

“People think that you need a lot of things to be happy. But most of the time I’m always happy. Even though I have problems, but since I’m praying all the time that keeps me happy and that gives me courage to live one day at a time,” Grand-Pierre said.

Fetscher feels that her experience with the church tour is preparing her for bigger and better community work. She plans to continue the tour as long as possible.

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Credit Google Maps
The locations of the churches in the order in which they were visited.