Pilgrimage To The Grotto

Hello my name is Ace Leben. I am a recent mechanical engineering graduate from Portland State University.

John Henry Newman shared a prayer that I have been contemplating. One part in particular hits me in an emotional and spiritual way, he prays “Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!” I am impacted by the poetic words of Newman because Jesus is everything to me, He is my reason to live and my endless source of truth and joy. I want to be able to radiate His light so perfectly that no one notices me. These desires to put Jesus above all things never materialized in me until I came to Newman and experienced God’s love in a new way. The Newman Center is where I have experienced God in prayer, in works of mercy and in the community. I’d like to share a specific time that I experienced God through the community at the Newman Center.

For a little bit of background I was a non-denominational Protestant over a year ago and was during the 2016 Pilgrimage to the Grotto. This is an event that the Oregon State Newman Center hosts annually that brings young Catholics all over the west coast together to march from Salem to the Grotto in Portland in prayer. I agreed to go knowing it was going to be a 66 mile hike because I had created meaningful bonds with some of the guys at Newman and I had a strong prayer intention. I decided to walk for my brother who was diagnosed with psychosis a couple of months earlier. Psychosis is a mental disorder that causes you to lose touch with reality, and believe that your hallucinations are real. I was desperate to see him healed and was convinced God would do something for my brother if I gave all my effort in walking the 66 miles. This idea evolved into a stubbornness which led me not to accept any help, especially from the recovery van which took stragglers in the back of the crowd to the front or carried them until they could walk again.

Back to the Pilgrimage, on the Friday it began I joined the people from Portland on a bus towards Salem unaware of the challenges I faced, and anticipating an answer from God during or after the long journey. The first hurdle I jumped, was praying the mysteries of the rosary, and believing in the intercessory prayer of Mother Mary. Looking back it cracks me up and I remember not being adamantly for or against it. This is a result of the testimony of a person and my personal circumstances. He told me that even as a fully formed Catholic he still struggled with his devotion with Mary. As a result of the testimony of my unnamed friend, I experienced solace because I knew I wasn’t the only person in that huge group of Catholics that didn’t fully believe in Mary. So I followed everyone else’s lead wishing to fit in and understand more about Marian devotion. At one point, I even asked Mother Mary if I should become Catholic! In hindsight, It seems very silly for me to ask for advice, not to mention advice on conversion to the Catholic faith, from the one person that basically only Catholics seek for advice. Although it seems ridiculous, asking Mary for advice was less an act of stupidity and more a reflection of my state of mind. I wanted to reach out for help by any means necessary for my brother’s sickness and my own sadness. I longed for God’s answer to my brother needs. I wanted to be heard and I found that through people I met on the Pilgrimage, the intercession of Mother Mary, and in prayer.

More importantly, God was listening to me through the intercession of the community. They were very attentive and gave their support to my brother’s cause. I felt that they genuinely cared for my brother when I spoke of him by their testimonies. In particular, I remember Laura Gougeon telling me her testimony about her struggles with mental illness. I found comfort in her testimony because I knew she experienced similar pain to my brother’s and truly sympathized with my worries. Another example of the incredible support I was given happened on the second day of the Pilgrimage.

On the second day of the Pilgrimage, I started to experience a lot pain in my legs especially from huge blisters on my toes, and from a scratch between my thighs.In addition to my pain, I was walking with a limp and was basically going at a snail's pace. I was a sight for sore eyes. At one point, my condition got so bad I ended up being the farthest in the back. I was with a couple of stragglers when they told us if we didn’t catch up to the nearest group we would be forced to get on the recovery van. In my mind, getting on the recovery van would ruin my prayer intention because I wasn’t going to be able to sacrifice as much of my effort for my brother. After they warned us, I made myself run through excruciating pain in fear that my previous sacrifices were going to be in vain if I got on the van. I eventually caught up to the nearest group but not without a price. I was pushing my physical limits to their farthest extents and it would lead me to once again experiencing God’s love. Later on that day, I was praying a rosary with Peter Judge and Nicolai Bajanov, and my legs started to cramp. Immediately, I began to fall but luckily Nicolai caught me. I will always remember what followed next. Peter and Nicolai picked me up so as I could sit on their shoulders and carried me into the van. It amazes me to this day that they did this instead of leaving me to figure things out. When I got into the van it didn’t occur to me how powerful their actions were because I was so focused on my failed attempt to walk the whole way. I ended up sharing my concerns with Tienyang Lei. I began to bawl in my sorrow but Tienyang Lei helped me to rethink about my supposed failure. He told me “Ace, you don’t need to cry. You think you failed but that's not true. You can pray during the walk AND in the car. All of our prayer matters even in the car. God will listen.” Through the comforting sympathy of Laura and Tienyang, and the powerful actions of Peter and Nicolai, I was experiencing a new and wholly different kind of love. This kind of love only comes from God. Anyone can experience this love because He knows exactly where our will and hearts aline, and He desires to pour it into us. Thank you for reading my testimony.

Click here for more information about this years Pilgrimage to the Grotto and to sign up!

Daisy Tobon