Your luggage would probably contain many of the things you would pack for a holiday, but with a few additions. Perhaps, like me, you might pack everything ‘just in case!’ Let’s have a closer look at the concept of going on a pilgrimage to see what extras might be required as we pack our bags!

Going on Pilgrimage: Not a New Concept

Going on pilgrimage is an ancient practice. Taken from the Latin ‘peregrinus’, it means wandering or journeying over a distance. It’s about going somewhere new with a purpose.

There is evidence of Christian pilgrimage as early as the 4th century, but it was the Middle Ages that saw a huge rise in the popularity of pilgrimage. In fact, four of the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage ‘stopping places’ have been included as a reminder of the pilgrimage destinations that were most popular in the Middle Ages – Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela and our very own ‘England’s Nazareth’ – Walsingham.

Looking back even before Christianity, there is a long tradition of pilgrimage found in our Jewish roots. The festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) are ‘pilgrimage festivals’ with participants travelling to Jerusalem to celebrate. This was true for Jesus and His family:

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem  for the Festival of the Passover.

 Luke 2:41

Again, in His adult years, Jesus would make a pilgrimage. His entering Jerusalem on a donkey is one of those times, for the Festival of Passover.

Today, local and international pilgrimages are still incredibly popular. Here in Britain, there is a resurgence of walking pilgrimages, with Scotland, Wales and England reviving their own ancient pilgrimage sites and ways for modern pilgrims. You can find out more here.

Pilgrimage: An Outer Sign of an Inner Journey

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer. For pilgrims seeking living water, shrines are special places for living the forms of Christian prayer “in Church.”

CCC 2691

According to the Church, our whole life is a pilgrimage and the destination is heaven. Put another way, pilgrimage is an outer sign of an inner journey. The sensory experience on pilgrimage can point to an invisible reality.

Take water as an example. Shrines often feature a spring that appeared at the site of an important event, perhaps an apparition of Our Lady, or the death of a martyr. Pilgrims bathe in or drink the water at shrines. These sensory experiences point to the invisible reality that Jesus is the living water guiding us to heaven. In the words of Jesus:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 13 – 14

When we introduced the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage to children last month through the Collective Worship assembly, we said that there are four key components, or ‘purposes’, to a pilgrimage:

1. Prayer   2. Penance  3.  Solidarity  4. Charity 

Prayer and Penance

Much like a holiday, a pilgrimage is about connecting with nature, the people along the way and is an opportunity to reconnect with yourself. What distinguishes a pilgrimage from a holiday is the intentional connection with God.

The very act of walking a distance, sometimes barefoot, can be offered to God as penance for sins committed. At Catholic shrines there is the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and receive God’s forgiveness.

Prayer and pilgrimage go together. The pilgrim may have a special intention or request that they bring with them on this holy journey, or they may simply desire to draw closer to God. Prayer may take the form of a simple conversation and may also include more formal prayers such as the Rosary or Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There are so many spiritual benefits (graces) to be received from our generous God as we embark upon a pilgrimage.

Solidarity and Charity

Even if we make a pilgrimage alone, we find that ‘the Church’ (the people of God), is there to be encountered; both in the here and now and with those who have trodden these ancient paths many hundreds of years before.

Our Church is made up of people from all walks of life, kings and queens through to the poorest and weakest. No matter our status, there is solidarity through the shared experience of pilgrimage. As pilgrims help each other through prayer, encouragement and acts of kindness, friendship can blossom.

Are You Ready?

So, let’s review our pilgrimage packing. What will you and your pupils take with you as you begin the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage journey?

So you are not weighed down on the journey, only the essentials are needed for your holy journey! This will leave plenty of space for the real things needed on a pilgrimage –  an open heart full of expectation; a readiness to receive the graces that God wants to give; plus, a desire for adventure and discovering new things – not just about the shrines and the places on the way, but about yourself and about God who comes to each one of us in our own space and time. Let’s get packing!

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