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On heartland roads, and a riverboat, devout Catholics press on with two-month nationwide pilgrimage

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On heartland roads, and a riverboat, devout Catholics press on with two-month nationwide pilgrimage
News

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On heartland roads, and a riverboat, devout Catholics press on with two-month nationwide pilgrimage

2024-06-25 19:59 Last Updated At:20:00

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) — “Bye bye, Jesus!” a child called out as the riverboat chugged away from shore into the Ohio River, a solemn bell tolling amid the thrumming of an old-fashioned sternwheel.

Two Catholic bishops on board, representing dioceses on each side of the river, took turns holding aloft the guest of honor — the consecrated Eucharistic host, in which Catholics believe Jesus is truly present in the Communion bread.

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Catholics stand on the edge of the Ohio River watching the Eucharist move down the Ohio River headed for Wheeling, W.Va., Sunday, June 23, 2024, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) — “Bye bye, Jesus!” a child called out as the riverboat chugged away from shore into the Ohio River, a solemn bell tolling amid the thrumming of an old-fashioned sternwheel.

Misha McGovern, right, and her two sons, Benedict, center, and Bede, left, stand at the Steubenville Marina with fellow Catholics awaiting the arrival of the Eucharist, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Misha McGovern, right, and her two sons, Benedict, center, and Bede, left, stand at the Steubenville Marina with fellow Catholics awaiting the arrival of the Eucharist, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, carries the Eucharist onto a riverboat as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The boat made its way along the Ohio River from Steubenville to Wheeling, W.Va., ringing its bell as bishops blessed communities along the route. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, carries the Eucharist onto a riverboat as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The boat made its way along the Ohio River from Steubenville to Wheeling, W.Va., ringing its bell as bishops blessed communities along the route. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Amanda and Toby Byrnes of Chester, W.Va., stand along the Ohio River with their children and fellow Catholics watching as a boat holding the Eucharist floats toward Wheeling, West Virginia, Sunday June 23, 2024, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Amanda and Toby Byrnes of Chester, W.Va., stand along the Ohio River with their children and fellow Catholics watching as a boat holding the Eucharist floats toward Wheeling, West Virginia, Sunday June 23, 2024, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

From left, Tara Mostero, her twin sister Ashley Mostero, Becca Eckelkamp, Tracy Mostero, and Jean Hilgendorf take a selfie Sunday, June 23, 2024, in front of the riverboat that will carry the Eucharist down the Ohio River from the Steubenville Marina to Wheeling, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

From left, Tara Mostero, her twin sister Ashley Mostero, Becca Eckelkamp, Tracy Mostero, and Jean Hilgendorf take a selfie Sunday, June 23, 2024, in front of the riverboat that will carry the Eucharist down the Ohio River from the Steubenville Marina to Wheeling, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

The Rev. Roger Landry, center, arrives with the Eucharist at the Ohio River in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The river voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

The Rev. Roger Landry, center, arrives with the Eucharist at the Ohio River in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The river voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist arrives at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist arrives at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sisters of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love in Manchester, N.H., wait along the shores of the Ohio River for the arrival of the Eucharist at the Steubenville Marina, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The sisters are a part of the National Eucharist Pilgrimage caravan, following the East Coast route until it concludes at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sisters of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love in Manchester, N.H., wait along the shores of the Ohio River for the arrival of the Eucharist at the Steubenville Marina, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The sisters are a part of the National Eucharist Pilgrimage caravan, following the East Coast route until it concludes at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Paul Bradley raises the Eucharist during a prayers service at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Paul Bradley raises the Eucharist during a prayers service at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families pack into St. Peter Church for a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The pilgrimage began in four separate locations, California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas, and will conclude with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families pack into St. Peter Church for a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The pilgrimage began in four separate locations, California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas, and will conclude with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families climb the steps of St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024, to attend a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families climb the steps of St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024, to attend a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist passes in procession in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This and other weekend events were part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist passes in procession in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This and other weekend events were part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Hundreds of Catholics gather in procession with the Eucharist in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This event was part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Hundreds of Catholics gather in procession with the Eucharist in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This event was part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sister Mary Fatima Pham, second from right, kneels with her fellow Catholics as they watch the Eucharist brought on board a boat on the Ohio River at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sister Mary Fatima Pham, second from right, kneels with her fellow Catholics as they watch the Eucharist brought on board a boat on the Ohio River at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

A riverboat carrying the Eucharist cruises down the Ohio River between Wellsburg, West Virginia, and Brilliant, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

A riverboat carrying the Eucharist cruises down the Ohio River between Wellsburg, West Virginia, and Brilliant, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, left, hands the Eucharist to the Rev. Roger Landry as they board a boat on the Ohio River as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, left, hands the Eucharist to the Rev. Roger Landry as they board a boat on the Ohio River as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Scores of devotees watched reverently from the shore on Sunday — nuns and families with clusters of young children — fingering rosaries, uttering prayers, singing quietly. Some knelt on the gravel surface.

The event culminated three days of devotions in this small Ohio city, launched by a procession through downtown streets on a sweltering Friday evening, where hundreds of devotees passed bars, shops, vacant storefronts and the curious stares of residents in folding chairs.

Among those in the procession were seminarians in black cassocks, nuns in habits, girls in First Communion dresses, and members of lay orders in traditional garb. One girl’s T-shirt proclaimed, “Get holy or die tryin’.”

It’s just a snapshot of a wider project. Catholic pilgrims are in the middle of a two-month journey on four routes across the United States. They're planning to converge on Indianapolis in mid-July for a climactic stadium gathering called the National Eucharistic Congress, the first such event in more than 80 years.

Everywhere, the center of attention is the Eucharistic host, held in a golden vessel known as a monstrance.

“The pilgrimage is a really exciting opportunity for us to literally walk with Jesus, like the apostles did,” said Zoe Dongas, one of a small group of “perpetual” pilgrims traveling an entire route.

Starting in May in New Haven, Connecticut, her group has processed through cities, ridden by boat to the Statue of Liberty and trekked through rural Pennsylvania in a heat wave. The group will travel from West Virginia across Ohio to Indianapolis, meeting up with pilgrims who started from California, Texas and Minnesota.

Organizers are hoping that — as with the child on the riverbank — the enterprise reinforces the core Catholic belief that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, and not just symbolized by bread and wine, as many Protestants believe.

Some have questioned the need for the event, and the congress’s $14 million cost — saying belief in the Eucharist is stronger than feared, that the event is only appealing to those already drawn to traditional piety and that it’s partly the byproduct of a political debate.

But Bishop Mark Brennan of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, said reinforcing Eucharistic faith is crucial.

“If that is weakened in our people, then they’ll be weakened in their response to Christ and to the service of God and neighbor that they’re supposed to offer,” Brennan said aboard the boat taking him and his counterpart from the Diocese of Steubenville downriver toward Wheeling.

If the scenes in Steubenville seemed like something out of another era, they are.

The last time a Eucharistic National Congress was held, it was in an era when urban Catholics thronged to massive devotional parades and stadium events. That kind of traditional piety began waning by mid-20th century.

But Steubenville, a Rust Belt city showing the wear of its post-industrial years, is a hub for some hoping to revive traditional piety. The region is home to a conservative Catholic university, a Catholic family camp and a cluster of religious orders.

This weekend, participants spoke of the Eucharist simply as Jesus.

The idea of taking Jesus out on a riverboat was natural in light of the assigned gospel reading at Sunday Mass, in which Jesus rides in a boat with his disciples and miraculously calms a storm, said Steubenville seminarian Sam Ivkovich.

“He preached from boats, so this seems fitting,” Ivkovich said on the wind-whipped Wellsburg Bridge, where he gathered with several devotees to kneel, sing and pray as the boat passed below.

The pilgrimages sprang from deliberations among U.S. bishops.

Their 2021 document, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” arose amid debate over whether bishops should withhold Communion from Catholic politicians like President Joe Biden or Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democrats who supported abortion rights. Following cautionary signals from the Vatican, the document ultimately did not directly address that question, though it called on Catholics to examine whether they align with church teachings.

Some bishops cited a 2019 survey that found most church members don’t believe Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist. Bishops devised a three-year focus on the doctrine, culminating in pilgrimages and the Indianapolis gathering.

Some researchers have cast doubt on the original survey’s phrasing.

A follow-up by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in 2022 used multiple phrasings and found that 64% of Catholics expressed belief in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist in at least one response. Virtually all Catholics who attend Mass weekly affirmed this belief, according to the Georgetown University-based center.

This raises the question of whether the pilgrimage and congress amount to “a solution in search of a problem,” said Steven Millies, professor of public theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He wondered if bishops’ real worry is over Catholics’ “lost sense of difference” from a society they have assimilated into.

In the early to mid-20th century, when Catholics were defined by growing communities of European immigrants and their descendants, they gathered by the scores of thousands for Eucharistic and other traditional devotions at landmarks like Chicago’s Soldier Field, Louisville’s Churchill Downs and Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.

“This was a way of announcing to the rest of the United States, ‘We are here, and we are here in large numbers,’” Millies said. The rituals, he added, served as a reminder that while Catholics had arrived as Americans, they were distinct from their neighbors.

These mass piety events began to wane by the 1950s. The reformist Second Vatican Council of the 1960s spawned simpler liturgies increasing lay involvement, though today some are working to revive older ways. Catholics are more diverse while also facing an increasingly secular culture.

“Catholics aren’t the same as we were 100 years ago," Millies said. "The world has changed around us. Eucharistic piety is one form of devotion in the Catholic Church. There are many others. It doesn’t speak to everybody.”

He also questioned the event’s timing.

“I would find it very hard to accept this is a coincidence this is happening in an election year,” he said.

Pilgrimage participants, however, spoke in personal and spiritual terms.

Katherine Ball of St. Clairsville, Ohio, who joined Friday’s procession with fellow members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, dressed in its medieval black cape and veil, choked back tears as she spoke of how the presence of the Eucharist helped console her after losing her parents to cancer.

Weeks earlier, she said, she happened to drive alongside the well-marked van in which the perpetual pilgrims were traveling, with the host displayed in the monstrance. She stayed close to the van for some time, her spirits lifting as she recalled a saint’s writing that “Jesus never travels alone” but brings all of heaven into the Eucharist.

“I know that when I receive Holy Communion, I’m unified with my parents, and this is just a foretaste of heaven,” she said.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Catholics stand on the edge of the Ohio River watching the Eucharist move down the Ohio River headed for Wheeling, W.Va., Sunday, June 23, 2024, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics stand on the edge of the Ohio River watching the Eucharist move down the Ohio River headed for Wheeling, W.Va., Sunday, June 23, 2024, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Misha McGovern, right, and her two sons, Benedict, center, and Bede, left, stand at the Steubenville Marina with fellow Catholics awaiting the arrival of the Eucharist, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Misha McGovern, right, and her two sons, Benedict, center, and Bede, left, stand at the Steubenville Marina with fellow Catholics awaiting the arrival of the Eucharist, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, carries the Eucharist onto a riverboat as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The boat made its way along the Ohio River from Steubenville to Wheeling, W.Va., ringing its bell as bishops blessed communities along the route. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, carries the Eucharist onto a riverboat as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The boat made its way along the Ohio River from Steubenville to Wheeling, W.Va., ringing its bell as bishops blessed communities along the route. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Amanda and Toby Byrnes of Chester, W.Va., stand along the Ohio River with their children and fellow Catholics watching as a boat holding the Eucharist floats toward Wheeling, West Virginia, Sunday June 23, 2024, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Amanda and Toby Byrnes of Chester, W.Va., stand along the Ohio River with their children and fellow Catholics watching as a boat holding the Eucharist floats toward Wheeling, West Virginia, Sunday June 23, 2024, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

From left, Tara Mostero, her twin sister Ashley Mostero, Becca Eckelkamp, Tracy Mostero, and Jean Hilgendorf take a selfie Sunday, June 23, 2024, in front of the riverboat that will carry the Eucharist down the Ohio River from the Steubenville Marina to Wheeling, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

From left, Tara Mostero, her twin sister Ashley Mostero, Becca Eckelkamp, Tracy Mostero, and Jean Hilgendorf take a selfie Sunday, June 23, 2024, in front of the riverboat that will carry the Eucharist down the Ohio River from the Steubenville Marina to Wheeling, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

The Rev. Roger Landry, center, arrives with the Eucharist at the Ohio River in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The river voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

The Rev. Roger Landry, center, arrives with the Eucharist at the Ohio River in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The river voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist arrives at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist arrives at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sisters of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love in Manchester, N.H., wait along the shores of the Ohio River for the arrival of the Eucharist at the Steubenville Marina, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The sisters are a part of the National Eucharist Pilgrimage caravan, following the East Coast route until it concludes at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sisters of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Healing Love in Manchester, N.H., wait along the shores of the Ohio River for the arrival of the Eucharist at the Steubenville Marina, in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The sisters are a part of the National Eucharist Pilgrimage caravan, following the East Coast route until it concludes at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Paul Bradley raises the Eucharist during a prayers service at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Paul Bradley raises the Eucharist during a prayers service at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The service was part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which seeks to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families pack into St. Peter Church for a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The pilgrimage began in four separate locations, California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas, and will conclude with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families pack into St. Peter Church for a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. The pilgrimage began in four separate locations, California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas, and will conclude with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families attend a prayer service as a part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families climb the steps of St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024, to attend a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Families climb the steps of St. Peter Church in Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024, to attend a prayer service as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist passes in procession in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This and other weekend events were part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Catholics kneel as the Eucharist passes in procession in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This and other weekend events were part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Hundreds of Catholics gather in procession with the Eucharist in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This event was part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Hundreds of Catholics gather in procession with the Eucharist in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, Friday, June 21, 2024. This event was part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sister Mary Fatima Pham, second from right, kneels with her fellow Catholics as they watch the Eucharist brought on board a boat on the Ohio River at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Sister Mary Fatima Pham, second from right, kneels with her fellow Catholics as they watch the Eucharist brought on board a boat on the Ohio River at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will conclude at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in mid-July, the first held in more than 80 years. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

A riverboat carrying the Eucharist cruises down the Ohio River between Wellsburg, West Virginia, and Brilliant, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

A riverboat carrying the Eucharist cruises down the Ohio River between Wellsburg, West Virginia, and Brilliant, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. The voyage is part of a two-month series of cross-country pilgrimages focused on the Eucharist, seeking to raise devotion around a sacrament in which Catholics believe they encounter Jesus' real presence. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, left, hands the Eucharist to the Rev. Roger Landry as they board a boat on the Ohio River as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Bishop Edward Lohse, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, left, hands the Eucharist to the Rev. Roger Landry as they board a boat on the Ohio River as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, at the Steubenville Marina in Steubenville, Ohio, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Spain's Diego Botin stunned heavyweights Tom Slingsby of Australia and Peter Burling of New Zealand by brilliantly steering Los Gallos to victory in SailGP's $2 million, winner-take-all Grand Final on San Francisco Bay on Sunday.

Botin's thrilling victory in the dash across the tops of the waves for sailing's biggest cash prize snapped Slingsby's three-season run as champion of tech titan Larry Ellison's global league and denied Burling a breakthrough victory.

Spain qualified for the Grand Final thanks to a mindboggling error by French skipper Quentin Delapierre and his crew in an earlier fleet race that knocked them out of the regatta.

Botin took full advantage of that gift and never let trans-Tasman Sea rivals Australia and New Zealand engage in an anticipated showdown between skippers with deep America's Cup and Olympic pedigrees.

Botin hit the starting line first and led his more accomplished rivals all the way around the course in front of the Golden Gate Bridge aboard his foiling 50-foot catamaran with a red outline of a rooster on the wingsail.

“I cannot describe the feeling now,” Botin said before heading ashore for a Champagne shower with his crew. “It was an amazing race. We nailed the start and we managed to keep it up. We were lucky because we broke a rudder or something on the last downwind but we managed to stay in front."

The Australians had a technical issue as well as they were chasing down the Spanish but they didn't recover. One of their foil boards didn't lock into place and they buried their bows in the water.

“It was a normal tack, but somehow the board came off the lock,” Slingsby said. "We’ve done thousands of tacks this week and it hasn’t happened at all, then today it happened in the final $2 million dollar race. What do you do? It’s just unlucky.”

After dominating the day's two fleet races, the Aussies seemed locked in.

“Honestly, the team sailed the best we’ve sailed, almost ever, today,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist who helped Oracle Team USA to an epic comeback victory in the America's Cup on these same waters in 2013. "We had that mentality the whole race, even when we were behind, so I’m so proud of this team and the way they sailed. I’m honored to be part of it all.”

Botin noted that it was his country's fourth big victory on Sunday. Spain won a record fourth European Championship in soccer, Carlos Alcaraz won his second straight Wimbledon men's championship and Sergio Garcia won in LIV Golf.

“Beating the Kiwis and Aussies in the Grand Final here in San Francisco ... we’re over the moon,” Botin said. "It’s been a big grind and we’ve been through a lot in this league. Last season we were last in the scores, and look, this season we win. I think we have an amazing team. Let's see if we can keep it together and keep the ball rolling.”

Slingsby won both fleet races Sunday to claim the San Francisco regatta that preceded the Grand Final.

Burling is a three-time Olympic medalist, including one gold, and as helmsman of Emirates Team New Zealand will pursue a third straight America's Cup victory in the fall.

“We're all feeling the pain at the moment, but we’re really proud of the way the team has gone about their business,” Burling said.

Late in the fourth fleet race of the San Francisco regatta, France approached the final turning mark on port and needed to keep clear of Denmark on starboard, but turned too close and made contact. The impact snapped a rudder and sent the catamaran up on its port hull, where it hung precipitously for a few heart-stopping seconds as the crew avoided a capsize.

Botin dashed ahead to finish in front of France in the 10-boat fleet. France was hit with an eight-point penalty and the damage kept it out of the fifth fleet race, opening the door for Spain's big victory.

“Sometimes you prefer to stay at home, and today I think that was the case," Delapierre said. “At the last tack I just didn’t see the Danish and we crashed with them. We didn’t finish the job and that’s really painful for everybody on board right now.”

Bernie Wilson has covered sailing for the AP since 1991.

AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team helmed by Diego Botin celebrate on stage after winning the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in San Francisco,, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Adam Warner /SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team helmed by Diego Botin celebrate on stage after winning the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in San Francisco,, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Adam Warner /SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team helmed by Diego Botin celebrate on stage with champagne after winning the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final inin San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Ricardo Pinto/SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team helmed by Diego Botin celebrate on stage with champagne after winning the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final inin San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Ricardo Pinto/SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team helmed by Diego Botin lead the fleet on Race Day 2 of the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Jason Ludlow/SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team helmed by Diego Botin lead the fleet on Race Day 2 of the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Jason Ludlow/SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, France SailGP Team helmed by Quentin Delapierre collides with ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team helmed by Nicolai Sehested on Race Day 2 of the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Ricardo Pinto/SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, France SailGP Team helmed by Quentin Delapierre collides with ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team helmed by Nicolai Sehested on Race Day 2 of the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Ricardo Pinto/SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team competes on Race Day 2 of the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in in San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Ricardo Pinto/SailGP via AP)

In this photo provided by SailGP, Spain SailGP Team competes on Race Day 2 of the SailGP Season 4 Grand Final in in San Francisco, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Ricardo Pinto/SailGP via AP)

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