Home»Features»ministry of PILGRIMAGE With trust in God, Cody and Angela Egner launched St. Charles Pilgrimages

ministry of PILGRIMAGE With trust in God, Cody and Angela Egner launched St. Charles Pilgrimages

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In a quaint café on the cobblestone streets just outside Vatican City, Cody Egner and his wife, Angela, sat at a table mapping out a vision that soon impacted over a thousand Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. During that 2015 lunch, the couple expressed their desire to share Rome’s beauty and spirituality with fellow Catholics, and the mission of St. Charles Pilgrimages was born: to facilitate a unique encounter with the Lord.

What started as a ministry to offer a handful of pilgrimages each year grew into something Cody couldn’t have imagined. “Very quickly we experienced the grace-filled power that accompanies the ministry of pilgrimage,” Cody explained. “At that point, we made the intentional decision to turn everything over to God by dedicating our ministry to Christ through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and our patron saint, St. Charles Borromeo.”

Today, the Egners and their 14-member team develop, plan and guide about 30 pilgrimages annually and have led over 100 pilgrimages for more than 3,700 Catholics.

To accommodate their company’s rapid growth, Cody resigned as Director of Religious Education at St. Cecilia, and Angela, who homeschools their three children, took on a larger role in the company. Cody also assembled a team of Catholic pilgrimage professionals to assist with planning the details.

“This is not a tour,” Cody said. “Our mission to create a unique encounter with Christ is accomplished through the holy sites we visit, traversing the steps that saints and martyrs have walked before us and … the newly developed relationships fostered [among] our fellow pilgrims.”

A Catholic priest serves as a chaplain on every pilgrimage, celebrating daily Mass, offering confessions and spiritual direction and leading devotionals during their time abroad.

“This sacramental grace is accompanied and fortified by the awe-inspiring visits to the many basilicas, churches, monasteries, abbeys and natural sites our world has to offer,” Cody explained.

Rome is the most popular pilgrimage destination, Cody explained, with the Holy Land, France and Greece tied for second. His favorite? “I love Ireland,” he said. “In addition to walking in the footsteps of the great Irish saints, being able to encounter our Lord in the natural beauty of the Emerald Isle is unlike any pilgrimage. Ireland is truly gorgeous.”

A more impactful pilgrimage Cody led was the 12-day “In the Footsteps of St. Paul” journey with Father Thomas Wray, Father Ethan Moore and Deacon Russ Feldkamp. It highlighted many Greek and Turkish biblical sites from the Acts of Apostles and St. Paul’s epistles, including the now-ancient areas of Corinth, Athens and Ephesus, and visited Greek islands during a three-night Aegean cruise.

The 44 pilgrims found it life changing, and most particularly noted how they now have a physical context in mind when reading St. Paul’s letters.

“When we read of St. Paul during his time with the Corinthians or with the people in Philippi where he was imprisoned—we were there,” Cody said. “These places, names and people now have a newfound meaning in our hearts and souls.”

“This is the power of pilgrimage; that the pilgrim’s faith is lit on fire. A fire not meant for one’s own self but to set the world ablaze,” he continued.

For Father Wray, the trip’s chaplain and the Parochial Vicar of St. Paul the Apostle Family of Parishes in Cincinnati, the pilgrimage held personal significance as his wife of 35 years, Dr. Janet Wray, passed away months before taking the trip she helped him plan.

“I was searching for a way to heal, to remember Jan and her Catholic legacy and to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to live into my new spiritual reality,” Father Wray said.

“This was a unique opportunity for our pilgrims, now close friends, to join together in prayer for the repose of Jan’s soul and the entire Wray family,” Cody said.

One of Father Wray’s favorite moments was giving a talk at the Areopagus in Athens, on the exact spot where St. Paul witnessed to Greek philosophers.

With four more pilgrimages scheduled for Greece in 2024 and 2025, and more than 20 other pilgrimages scheduled in the next year, every Catholic has an opportunity to embrace a pilgrim’s heart. “A pilgrimage is a classic devotion of the Catholic faith,” Father Wray said. “Every Catholic who is physically able should make it a ‘bucket list’ [item] to put their faith in action by making a pilgrimage.”

Cody said his goal for St. Charles Pilgrimages’ growth is simple: to continue to do the will of God. “As long as He wills it, we plan to continue to share the ministry of pilgrimage to all holy men and women who will hear His message.”

For more information about St. Charles Pilgrimages, including its upcoming journeys and how to lead your own pilgrimage, head to stcharlespilgrimages.com.

This article appeared in the July 2024 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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