One hundred faithful crossed the Lock 12 bridge in the rain Sunday afternoon.
The old Latin syllables of “The Magnificat,” or the “Song of Mary” came through the misty air before the pilgrims.
A group of nuns led the stream of Catholics wearing clear plastic rain ponchos over their long black garb and carrying white and red religious banners as they marched through Fort Hunter.
Behind them came families, young men in military weather gear, mothers in jean skirts and children in sneakers, all dripping wet. It was the last leg of their 65-mile religious pilgrimage from the southern tip of Lake George to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville.
“Make sure the pilgrims follow the van,” said Mike Emig, who has guided the group with a GPS and traffic flags for 11 of the past 18 annual pilgrimages.
“They’re in charge of the actual point of the pilgrimage,” he said of the nuns. “I’m in charge of making sure they don’t get hit by cars.”
They started in the early dawn Friday, marching 11 hours a day through rain, camping in the rain and holding 5:30 a.m. Latin Masses in the rain. It’s not exactly meant to be fun.
“You walk 65 miles in three days and you’re hurting,” said Mike Six, who helped guide the group, “This is penance.”
As people filed past, some singing, some reading Scripture from rain-crinkled pages, Six explained the significance of the march.
“We’re making reparations for our own sins and the sins of the nation,” he said, “There’s clearly a lot wrong in the world and we need a lot of collective penance.”
As Catholics believe in the intercessory power of saints, many walked and prayed for a specific reason. Brother Andre Marie, for example, walked for the 94-year-old chaplain of his New Hampshire community who is dying of cancer.
“I’m praying for his holy death,” he said, a large rosary bouncing around his robes.
David McWhirter led a group of about a dozen in Hail Marys through a loudspeaker. The rhythm of the prayer echoed under the Thruway overpass as the rain dripped from his hair and blue poncho.
“We’re here to honor the North American martyrs and to walk in their footsteps of suffering,” he said, his prayers finished. “So the rain is fitting. It’s a blessing.”
But the penance led to joy. Children ran between parents. Young men broke into nonreligious army-style marching songs.
They had reason to be happy. This month, after hundreds of years of prayer, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born at the shrine site in 1656 and devoted her life to the faith, will become the first Native American saint.
“We’ve all been watching and praying for this for years,” said Reuben DeMaster.
But it was more than that. As the group climbed the last hill to the shrine, even the stately group of nuns broke into a near jog, their banners bouncing as they went.
“It’s exhilarating,” said Sister Maria Philomena as she covered the last few yards to the shrine coliseum. “There’s something about going through the pain. It’s a little view of what it will be like to enter heaven.”
The tired pilgrims came together at the doors of the coliseum from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Texas by way of Lake George.
“The Magnificat” trickled through their ranks.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” it goes in English. Then they went inside for the first time in three days, out of the rain.