Instead of standing idly by witnessing western civilization become more and more corroded through abortion, the breakdown of marriage and family, and the loss of a sense of sin, the 49-year-old decided on a radical course of action: He would embark on a journey across America on foot, praying for the spiritual needs of his countrymen.
“Ultimately, I just couldn’t stand around and watch this happen anymore,” Byerly told LifeSiteNews.com by phone during his brief stop in Odessa, Texas for Christmas.
Byerly’s journey would be a pilgrimage of penance, prayer, and sacrifice to make amends for his own crimes and the crimes of others committed against God and neighbor.
The word “pilgrim” conjures up images of someone from the Middle Ages dressed in tattered robes and traveling across Europe or Russia with a staff and a ragged bundle slung across his back. While Byerly is a modern pilgrim with modern tools, such as an iPad for communicating and for tracing out his route, he is driven by that same mysterious hunger felt by pilgrims of all ages, a hunger for God and for his Kingdom to come.
Byerly set out on his pilgrimage from his hometown of Newark, Delaware on July 25, 2013. Prior to this he had disentangled himself of his worldly responsibilities. He left a successful job as a manager of a private Spanish restaurant. Then he gave away, sold, or threw out everything he owned, except for what he needed for his journey.
Byerly will visit 150 Catholic shrines on his roughly 3,000 mile trek across the continent to California, one holy place for each “Hail Mary” prayer of the 15 traditional decades of the Rosary.
Byerly has a set of what he calls pilgrim “rules” that he follows religiously.
“I do not take busses, trains, or planes. I do not hitchhike or directly request rides from anyone, but I can accept rides from those who generously and freely offer them,” he said.
“I have no funds of my own but rely solely on God's providential help through alms. I never ask people for money, but will accept gifts of money freely offered. I can beg for food, water, and lodging only. I have a tent — and make as much use of it as possible — but many good souls have opened their homes to me.”
“While walking I pray—for the people I pass by, for the dioceses and their bishops and priests, for the towns and cities that I go through, for all the good souls that have helped me along my way, for the Catholic Church, for our Pope.”
As he walks Mark prays that God will raise up an army of men and women of the “most dramatic sanctity that our world has yet seen” who will courageously confront the prevailing evils of the culture, even to the point of martyrdom.
“Our world, being so very ill, cannot wait any longer,” he said.
Byerly said that his pilgrim prayer is directed especially towards priests and bishops who he said must become “humble and repent” if authentic renewal in the Church and world is to happen.
He says he experienced what he called a “gradual awakening” to the real state of the world after reading LifeSiteNews.com articles over a few years. He became deeply concerned by the reports about anti-life and anti-family actions that he read.
“It’s really hard to read all those things and not see that things are in a crazy down-spiral throughout the whole world morally and spiritually,” he said.
Byerly says that in a moment of epiphany it suddenly dawned on him that a massive spiritual battle was taking place, a battle between the forces of good and evil for the souls of every man, woman, and child.
“I realized that I stood in a world which, to my great dismay, despised the child and the innocent and pure, and that it despised them with sadistic violence.”
“I realized that the demons in the sky are blacking out the sun, that the enemies of Christ are strong and many, that His Kingdom is devastated, and that ‘My God! who will you send to help us?!’”
“Seeing over the last four to five years the dizzying speed with which all of the world is ingesting every known spiritual and moral disease with the apparent purpose of hateful self-annihilation, I could not stand and watch any more. The entire edifice is burning and few are shouting ‘fire’ with the necessary urgency of voice,” he said.
He decided to be that voice shouting “fire” through prayer, fasting, and walking on pilgrimage.
People passing Byerly as they drive along the highway will see a man in nondescript brown clothes wearing a backpack. They will notice a simple cross hanging from his neck. Many will write him off as a nutcase, as did one Texas police officer who offered to drive the pilgrim to the next county line.
"No disrespect, bu' don’t’cha think it's all kinduva lost cause? There’s jus' too much evil'n this world,” Byerly remembers the officer saying.
He generally agrees with this kind of an assessment, but always adds: “Yes, but many individual souls can still be saved.”
Byerly knows that the fruits of his pilgrimage will largely be hidden from the eyes of the world. They will be seen by God alone. Deep down he believes that his pilgrimage will help bring God's grace and mercy for the Church and for humanity. He hopes it will bring people a “vibrant and shimmering hope” that God has not forsaken his people.