November 18, 2022

Catholics’ ties to the dead are strengthened in annual Indulgence Walk in Indianapolis

Father C. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, leads Catholics on Nov. 5 in his parish’s eighth annual Indulgence Walk through Holy Cross and St. Joseph cemeteries in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father C. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, leads Catholics on Nov. 5 in his parish’s eighth annual Indulgence Walk through Holy Cross and St. Joseph cemeteries in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The overcast sky was a leaden gray. High winds blew autumn leaves through the air and around gravestones in Holy Cross and St. Joseph cemeteries in Indianapolis.

Added to the scene on Nov. 5 were dozens of Catholics weaving their way through the adjacent cemeteries. They were there to pray for what are traditionally called the “poor souls” in purgatory during the eighth annual Indulgence Walk sponsored by Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.

Part of the reason for this prayerful walk in the cemeteries was to obtain for souls in purgatory a plenary indulgence, which is a remission of all temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.

But there were other reasons as well for the people to gather at the cemeteries for the Indulgence Walk.

In praying for the dead and learning more about them, they strengthened their ties in the communion of saints that stretch from Earth through purgatory to heaven, said Father C. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Holy Rosary, who led the Indulgence Walk.

“A couple of years ago, Rome clarified that it’s appropriate to believe that the poor souls can pray for those who pray for them,” he said in an interview with The Criterion. “So, it also gains us their prayers and intercessions on our behalf.”

He also noted that hearing these stories “puts flesh” on the need for the faithful to pray for the souls in purgatory.

“The people we hear about are people who might have been known for something, but weren’t necessarily people who had a large amount of personal sanctity in their lives,” the priest said. “So, it gives you the sense that there’s this big Church suffering that’s beyond us that is in need of our prayers and love.”

The Indulgence Walk is the brainchild of David Walden, the parish’s director of communications.

He and a group of parishioners do research throughout the year on people buried in the cemeteries.

“Back in 2015, I was sitting in my family room watching TV minding my own business and, like a bolt out of the blue, this whole idea came to me,” said Walden. “So, I figure it had to come straight from God.”

He recalled how he had an “affinity for cemeteries” since visiting Holy Cross and St. Joseph cemeteries as a child with his parents and grandmother to put flowers on the graves of family members going back generations.

This draw toward cemeteries grew when Walden worked as an intern for The Indianapolis Star in 1984, writing obituaries for the newspaper.

“That’s where I learned that everybody who dies has a story,” Walden said. “Every one of us has something to tell. We all have a story. We all have people who loved us. We all have people we’ve loved.”

The walk includes stopping at specific graves of those buried in the cemeteries. A brief presentation about that person is given and those taking part in the walk are invited to pray for them and those who have died who were like them.

This year’s event highlighted stories of people from various walks of life: a Black Catholic who was a noted ragtime pianist, orchestra leader and composer; a firefighter who died in the line of duty in 1919 in Indianapolis; a race car driver who died in a crash in 1948 in Terre Haute; a businessman involved in politics a century ago in Indianapolis; and a woman who had been born in Beirut, Lebanon, who later emigrated to Indianapolis and owned a grocery store on the city’s east side.

Holy Rosary parishioner Jeanne Carr has helped with the research of those buried in the cemeteries. She said assisting with the research and then taking part each year in the walk has affected her faith.

“Everybody buried here has a similar story to those who are alive now,” she said. “They grew up, had some kind of education, jobs, a family. And everyone dies. Everyone alive today will go through what they have been through.”

That fact crossed Amy Kempf’s mind when she and her family took part in this year’s walk. It led her to wonder about her legacy for her children when she eventually dies.

“For me, it helps me focus more on death … ,” she said. “What will they remember about me? What kind of mother do I want them to remember me as?”

Focusing more on the present, Kempf was also glad to bring her children to the cemeteries for the walk.

“It’s helpful for them to see other kids their age and lots of other people doing something like this,” she said.

Walden credited the prayers of the poor souls for making this year’s walk possible after rain in Indianapolis earlier that day stopped before the planned start of the walk.

“I said, ‘The poor souls are powerful intercessors. They’re clearing it up for us,’ ” Walden said.

Because of the threat of continued rain, Walden was surprised to see so many people take part in the walk.

“It’s all for the glory of God and for the benefit of the poor souls,” he said. “It’s rewarding to see all these people come and know that they share devotion to the poor souls that I have.”

That devotion is an active part of Walden’s faith year-round, not just in November.

“When I go out to the cemetery now, it’s not just going to a cemetery,” he said. “To me, it’s going to visit friends.

I have a lot of friends out there now.”

(For ordinary requirements for a plenary indulgence, go to

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