Their soles may have been tired, but their souls were energized.
About 22 pilgrims in lime-green shirts, carrying a large American flag and trailed by a van announcing "Pope Francis is coming," passed through Harford County early this week as part of their 108-mile walk from Baltimore to Philadelphia.
The Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy is being led by a Washington County priest and a Catholic Review editor to coincide with the pontiff's first U.S. visit, set to culminate with Mass along Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday.
The pilgrims were spending Monday night at The John Carroll School in Bel Air before setting out Tuesday with plans of passing through St. Margaret Church and Conowingo Dam.
"There have been so many moments of grace with this, and we have only been on the road 30 hours," Paul McMullen, the energetic managing editor of The Catholic Review, said shortly after arriving for dinner at John Carroll early Monday evening.
"This is a great evangelization tool for the Archdiocese of Baltimore," he said, noting strangers have shown their support for the group, with one person even giving them money and another following them for part of the walk.
"Today I must have heard 1,000 horn honks," he said.
A group at The John Carroll School that included a handful of foreign students greeted the pilgrims as they came up the school's driveway, offering them water and soda before escorting them into the cafeteria for dinner.
The pilgrims were set to spend the night in the gym before Mass on Tuesday morning.
Before John Carroll, they walked north on Route 1 from Parkville's St. Ursula School, and later this week expect to stop in Kennett Square and at Neumann University and St. Philomena Parish in Pennsylvania.
They are walking 16 miles most days and relying on Catholic institutions along the way for meals, showers and hospitality, according to an Archdiocese press release.
"It's really an honor for us," school Principal Madelyn Ball said while sitting down with the group in the cafeteria.
Although McMullen said the group is "piggybacking on all the momentum" of the pontiff's visit, many of the pilgrims are passionate about the journey.
Edmund Tiller, of Washington County's Clear Spring, came with his mother and one of his brothers on his fourth such trip led by Father John "Jack" Lombardi. He said it was a chance to see the unity among fellow believers, "not even so much that we are going to see the pope."
"I think it's mostly that the whole trip is positive, and the pope is just the bonus," he said.
A grinning Shanon Pieper, of Westminster, said the walk so far was "way harder than I thought it would be," but "I have had fun. It's been cool and it's interesting."
"It's a cool sacrifice and I enjoyed it," she said while having dinner with her peers and some John Carroll students.
She is very passionate about the chance to see the pope up close.
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"I am really, really excited. That's one of the main reasons I came," she said. "I love the pope. He is just so happy and loving. A lot of people have changed their minds about the Catholic church because of this pope."
The pilgrimage includes a "Feet for Francis" shoe drive to benefit the Archdiocese and countries like Benin, Haiti and Pakistan.
Mary Bergin, from Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood, said she was moved by a series of bad events this year, including the riots in Baltimore on her birthday.
She said the pilgrimage can "hopefully re-start the heart, put some love back in the world."
Paula Tiller, of Clear Spring, said: "It's kind of like a family pilgrimage for us."
She said she tried to walk at least three miles daily to prepare for the trip and is trying to travel light.
"I feel like God is really blessing us for the whole thing," she said.