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On Sept. 17, 2023, two sisters left Paris and walked for approximately eight months to Jerusalem. Madeleine and Marie-Liesse, 19 and 22, who grew up in a Catholic family, decided to become pilgrims to grow in their faith. 

“We needed to make the faith our own,” they told CNA. “This pilgrimage was to discover God, to truly search for him and deepen our faith. We learned that we can trust God; he takes care of us in everything. The Gospel is not a joke.”

Two months later, in mid-November 2023, Louis Antona, 24, also left Paris on foot, bound for Jerusalem. The three young people met providentially in Albania, walked together through Turkey, then parted ways and reunited in Jerusalem. They shared the story of their pilgrimage with CNA.

“I needed to walk 4,500 kilometers to understand that Jesus is not just in Jerusalem but was by my side every step of the way,” Antona told CNA. He walked a total of 189 days and arrived in Jerusalem on May 18.

Madeleine and Marie-Liesse — who asked that their last name not be used — left from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre in the center of Paris with the blessing of their parents and a priest.

“It was a calling from God,” Madeleine said of the decision she and her sister made to leave. “There’s no need for reasons when God calls; you simply need to follow what he tells you.” 

The sisters created a simple blog to keep friends and family updated on their pilgrimage. The photos and brief stories reveal all the freshness of two young people on a journey while not hiding moments of doubt and difficulty.

“We chose to embark on this journey as beggars,” Marie-Liesse told CNA. “We left with just a few clothes and nothing else — no food, no money. We wanted to surrender ourselves into the hands of providence. Every evening, we knocked on people’s doors asking for shelter, a bed, and food. The Lord always provided.”

Their days were marked by walking and prayer. 

“We didn’t have a strict rule because we had to adapt every day to the people who hosted us, the place, and the situation,” Marie-Liesse explained. “But we had a framework: We knew we had to pray in the morning, at midday, at night… It was important for us to be faithful to God. Every day, we also recited a rosary, praying for the intentions entrusted to us.”

The most challenging moment was making the decision to continue the journey after hearing that war had broken out in the Holy Land. “We were in Germany and full of doubts about whether to go on.”

Their journey led them to cross Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia. In Croatia, “the faith of the people struck us: during Advent, tradition dictates that Mass be attended every morning at 6, and every time we went, the church was packed with people,” the sisters wrote on their blog.

They stopped for a month in Medjugorje (Bosnia and Herzegovina), where their family joined them for Christmas. 

“It was a difficult time. Again, we didn’t know what to do. But after a period of discernment, we realized that Christ was calling us back on the road again,” Madeleine said.

Madeleine and Marie-Liesse crossed Montenegro and arrived in Albania, where they encountered Antona.

“I had just finished my studies and wanted to offer something to God,” Antona told CNA. “I wasn’t sure what, but I thought that the best thing I had at that time was time itself. So, I decided to offer God a year of my life by embarking on a journey. It was a challenge; I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy walking and being alone.”

Antona decided to leave, despite the war. “I believe the hardest part of a pilgrimage like this is deciding to start. I knew that if I gave up because of the war, I would never do it again. Anyway, I thought that by the time I arrived, the war would already be over.”

Madeleine and Marie-Liesse are filled with wonder at the manifestation of providence in every detail of their pilgrimage, in the beautiful weather and in the rain, in every small encounter — those who hosted them after seeing them at the bus stop, those who taught them how to make bread, the gentleman who opened his door just before a downpour. “If we had arrived a minute later, we wouldn’t have met him,” they said.

The encounter with Antona wasn’t coincidental either. The two sisters had prayed to God to give them a travel companion.

“We planned to not go through Turkey because we were two women alone, but we would have liked to go that way. So we asked God to meet one pilgrim, and we met him,” the sisters explained. 

The three crossed Macedonia and Greece, arriving in Turkey on Palm Sunday. In this predominantly Muslim country, they celebrated Easter, warmly welcomed by the small French-speaking community there.

By Marinella Bandini

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