By Jennifer Russell
The Diocese of Allentown is seeing the first new chair of its Pilgrimage Committee in 30 years. Monsignor John Chizmar, Pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman Parish, Lake Harmony, has completed his successful tenure as chair. Taking his place is Father Allen Hoffa who is Pastor of Holy Guardian Angels Parish, Reading.
Monsignor John Chizmar has served the diocese since 1993 as the Director of Diocesan pilgrimages. During his time in the position, the Diocese has held pilgrimages to various locations including ones to the National Basilica in Washington, D.C., which will be happening again in 2025. This pilgrimage, among many others, has always been greatly attended.
“Every time we went down to the Basilica, we took at least two thousand people, many times three or four thousand,” Monsignor Chizmar recalled. “We would sometimes have seven, eight, ten priests hearing confessions through the whole pilgrimage. If people haven’t gone, I wish they would try it. They are going to come back feeling the presence of the Blessed Mother in their lives.”
“I am very grateful for Monsignor Chizmar’s priestly zeal in developing and facilitating pilgrimages for the faithful of the Diocese of Allentown for thirty years,” said Bishop Schlert in response to the change in leadership. “The devotion and spiritual lives of countless pilgrims have been enriched by Monsignor’s efforts,”
Reverend Monsignor Vito A. Buonanno, Director of Pilgrimages at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, also extended his congratulations to Monsignor Chizmar. “During his time as Director he has embraced the monumental task of bringing thousands from Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton, and Schuylkill Counties to the Nation’s Capital to visit Mary’s House, and has done so with the heart of a true shepherd,” Monsignor Buonanno said.
Father Hoffa, who was ordained in 2009, indicated his excitement to be able to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor. “I am thankful to Monsignor Chizmar’s great leadership for the growth of the Diocese in Holiness.” This is an important role within the Diocese, as it has allowed the faithful to draw closer in their reverence and relationship with God.
As a pilgrim himself on diocesan pilgrimages and as a former member of the Pilgrimage Committee when he was Director of the Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Father Hoffa’s hope in his new role is to continue the pilgrimages that Monsignor Chizmar established as well as adding some new destinations.
Father Hoffa hopes to bring parishioners from all over the Diocese to places as far off as Rome and the Holy Land, and as close as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Allentown.
“There is a lot that we can do in the upcoming years to run larger pilgrimages and smaller pilgrimages for the sake of travel for the people, financial commitment, and also to be able to diversify what we do and give all different types of experiences to be able to help people become closer to God,” said Father Hoffa.
When it comes to cost, Father Hoffa says he is hoping to provide opportunities to anyone interested in different price ranges. “We want to make sure we are providing the opportunities that make the most sense to an individual…some people, while they may love to go, may not be able to afford an overseas pilgrimage. So instead, we are going to have some smaller, more affordable pilgrimages.”
With his zeal for this type of ministry, Father Hoffa is excited to step into this role and bring the faithful of the Diocese to holy sites both locally and around the globe. “Having a multitude of opportunities to visit these places ultimately helps us grow in our faith,” he said.
Photo collage: The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (OSV News; used with permission) is pictured with Monsignor John Chizmar (left) and Father Allen Hoffa (right.)