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Past Pilgrimages


Pilgrimage 2002 - World Youth Day XVII, Toronto, Canada.

  • July 23rd- 28th.

  • Theme: "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world." (Mt 5:13-14)

Pilgrimage 2005 - World Youth Day XX, Cologne, Germany.

  • August 16th- 21st.

  • Theme: "We have come to worship him." (Mt 2:2)

Pilgrimage 2006 - Guadalupe, Mexico City.

  • July 22nd- August 1st.

  • Theme: "Am I not here, who am your mother?" (The Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego)

  • Our first non-WYD pilgrimage walking from Pueblo to Guadalupe on foot.

  • Wonderful graces for all the pilgrims, including a consecration to our Lady before the Tilma.

Pilgrimage 2008 - World Youth Day XXIII, Sydney, Australia.

  • July 15th- 20th.

  • Theme: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses." (Acts 1:8)

Pilgrimage 2009 - Shrine of the Jesuit Martyrs in Midland, Ontario.

  • July 9th- 15th.

  • Theme: "Having found Jesus Christ on his cross, you have found the roses in the thorns, sweetness in bitterness, all in nothing." (St. John De Brebeuf, Jesuit Relations, 1636).

Pilgrimage 2011 - World Youth Day XXVI, Madrid, Spain.

  • August 9th- 23rd.

  • Theme: "Rooted and built in Christ, established in the faith." (Col 2:7)

Pilgrimage 2013 - Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin.

  • July 30th- 8th August.

Theme: "I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners...Go and fear nothing, I will be with you." (Our Lady of Good Help to Adele Brise; October 1859).  

Pilgrimage 2015 - Shrines of the Jesuit Martyrs and St. Kateri, New York.

  • July 30th- August 7th.

  • Theme: " Lord give me light to know Your holy Will." (St. Isaac Jogues)

  • Following in the footsteps of the Jesuit Martyrs in the Adirondack mountains of New York.

Pilgrimage 2017 - Bishop Baraga Shrine U.P, Michigan.

  • July 30th- August 10th.

  • Theme: "Unum Necessarium est; One thing is necessary." (Venerable Bishop Baraga)

Trailblazers has been many places. Here are the previous places we have been to whether for World Youth Day or an independent pilgrimage.

About Trailblazers

What We Do

We organize youth pilgrimages to typical destinations familiar with Catholic piety and history. Our pilgrimages are REAL; foregoing many of the comforts of home as pilgrims have for centuries, and to do so with right intention. But do not worry as our trips are well-organized, safe, fun, and affordable! The experience of a pilgrimage is as spiritual as it is cultural and provides a valuable formative experience in every way.

What We Are Trying to Accomplish

We offer a venue for young people (ages 16-30) to unite for faith and formation. Our pilgrimages bring young people closer to God and introduce them to the places and times in which the Catholic Church lives and lived. Ultimately, we inspire the youth with love for God and for one another in an atmosphere of faith, formation, dignity and wisdom.

What Makes Us Unique?

  • No one does quite what we do

  • Youth groups, movements, and parishes may avail themselves of our services and still remain among their members as a cohesive group with their own particularities

  • We are centered in Southeast Michigan, but our young pilgrims have proceeded from countless places such as: Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Denver, Alaska, Virginia, and even Canada, Mexico, and Germany. The diversity of origins, we believe, is a manifestation of the universality proper to the Catholic Church

  • In spite of stressing Catholic origins and practices, on all of our pilgrimages plenty of non-Catholic youth have participated with great joy, sharing our great experience. Catholics and non-Catholics are equally welcome!

About Us

Where Trailblazers Came From

A letter from our founder on the creation of Trailblazers


Some people ask me from time to time, “Where did Trailblazers come from?” So I will offer here a small history of how we got started.


One day while I was still a seminarian, I was strolling through the halls of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. I was on the way somewhere. As I passed by each of the big windows of the hallway leading to the building entrance, my mind had been occupied with an important question.

How is the Catholic Church going to effectively pass on the Gospel message, in its entirety of teaching, practice and tradition, to the youth of today?

It takes no genius, of course, to look around in our cultural and civilizational milieu and realize that, frankly, the deck is stacked against the youth. They have few leaders to look up to, few examples of life, few supports, and lots of spiritual enemies. But these are youth, filled with all those great things proper to the age: high aspirations, the desire to go and leave an imprint on the world and society, profound hopes to make something great of their lives, a longing to help others and to improve things.

I had just proposed to the rector of our seminary, Bishop Allen Vigneron, a man worthy of great esteem, that the seminary do something to participate in World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Canada, just four hours up the road from Detroit. Imagine: the Pope is calling all the youth of the world there, and it’s only a stone’s throw away.

My proposal had dreams attached to it… I was imagining all the seminarians manning tables and booths about seminary life, answering young peoples’ questions about what it is to be a seminarian, and maybe some more important questions besides. A real youth-to-youth, peer-to-peer enterprise.

The rector informed me and the whole student body of theology that the faculty decided not to do anything. The difficulties of various diocese, other plans some of the classes had for the summer, and so forth, made the logistics too complicated. And the local Archdiocesan plan for WYD 2002 was way too expensive for me to sign up.

And so there I was, walking in the sun of the huge windows at the seminary, thinking about all this. Nothing? They will do nothing? Well, that simply won’t do. We can’t leave the Pope to do all that evangelizing all by himself… why, there will be a million people there! Shall I sit here and enjoy a summer vacation, loosing this great opportunity to spread the faith and encourage vocations? Then it hit me: “If not you, who? If not now, when?” And so I decided right there and then to found an enterprise to muster the youth of the Archdiocese, to offer a vastly more affordable venue, to have seminarians get involved, and so forth.


I spoke with some of my brother seminarians about the idea, and we decided to meet at a local, cheap restaurant to discuss the matter further. I was moved deeply to see that there were twelve seminarians, including myself, which reminded me of the twelve Apostles, and to see their zeal and enthusiasm to help the youth.

Throughout the months and years, my idea and focus for Trailblazers has developed in a wonderful way. I have seen the youth interested in more pilgrimages, not just WYD, so Trailblazers has expanded to yearly pilgrimages. And I think the pilgrimage from which I have the fondest memories to date was our trip to Mexico to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have found the best volunteers one could hope for, not just seminarians, men and women of every walk and state of life. Then I was ordained a priest, which enabled me to offer many more services, specifically the sacramental services, which up to then I could not have offered.

The name “Trailblazers” came from a discussion about what to call this pilgrimage-enterprise as we prepared to go to World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. For that WYD, the motto was, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world” (from Mt 5:13-14). Trying to combine the elements of this motto, with the idea of both pilgrimage and of our youth being a true light shining in the darkness, we came up with the name. “Trail” corresponded to “salt of the earth,” “blazers” to the light of the world, and the two terms together indicated pilgrimage and journey. The name is particularly apt, because I am discovering no one does quite what Trailblazers does, in so many ways.

From our alumni, there have come many fruits beyond telling. Among perhaps the most interesting ones, are those who entered into religious life or some form of consecrated life after their experience with us: RJ Slaton, Julissa Vazquez, Jill Thelen, Ben Pohl, Teresa Youanes and Gina Nuculaj to mention a few… and I think a few of our alumni have yet to make that move. We pray for all of you, and support you as you give your lives to God and the Church in this special way! We have been blessed with more than 350 pilgrims through the years so far, and are eager to blaze more trails where youth pilgrimages have never gone before!

Fr. Paul Ward.

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