(VIS) – As in previous years, the Pope has sent a message to participants in the 37th nocturnal pilgrimage on foot from Macerata to Loreto, Italy, gathered in the Helvia Recina stadium of Macerata during the night of 6 June to attend the opening Mass celebrated by Cardinal George Pell. This time, due to his apostolic trip to Sarajevo, the Holy Father’s message was recorded in advance and broadcast on the occasion.
“Pilgrimage is a symbol of life”, says Francis. “It makes us think of life as walking, as a path. If a person does not walk, but instead stays still, this is not useful; it accomplishes nothing. Think of water: when water is not in the river, it does not course, but instead it remains still and stagnates. A soul that does not walk in life doing good, doing many things that one must do for society, to assist others, or who does not walk through life seeking God and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, is a soul that finishes in mediocrity and in spiritual poverty. Please: do not stand still in life!”
A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey. We don’t choose our destination; it is God drawing us into Himself. Something inside us simply yearns to go. We feel invited, even summoned. Actually, we don’t have to “go” anywhere, for life itself is a pilgrimage. But going affords us the opportunity to leave behind that which hinders us from moving forward.
“Father, I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have let go of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ…I continue my journey (pilgrimage) in hope that I may possess (him) since I have been taken hold of by (him)…forgetting what lies behind but straining to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the heavenly prize which beckons, God’s call in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:8-14
Genesis 12:1 says, “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land I will show you.” For centuries, pilgrims of various faiths have journeyed to their sacred places – perhaps in search of healing or solace or simply out of obedience. We, like them, will encounter obstacles, telling us it is not safe, it is too expensive, don’t go. But if we are being called and we accept God’s invitation, then He will provide the way and also give us peace about our decision – “the peace that surpasses all understanding that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
All travel can be a source of pilgrimage if we just go with our eyes open to whatever God has for us. Initially, we are more tourist than pilgrim – still very much attached to the world. Often we feel annoyed, disoriented, uncomfortable. But we must go with an open heart and give ourselves time to adjust. God will do the rest. We should be prepared for a time of adjustment upon our return as well, but with a newfound peace and a greater awareness of God’s presence in our lives, changing the way we look at each day. As the old Chinese proverb says, “He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left.”
Of course, God is accessible everywhere but most of us feel a special closeness to Him when we go to Church. The same is true for a pilgrimage. It is pleasing to God when we take time out to seek Him and it can be truly transforming to actually walk where Jesus walked, to sit and “feel” the lives of the saints, to share in the presence of Mary speaking to her children.
We are called to live out our lives and our pilgrim’s journey in the company of others. We are not on this road alone. There are definite advantages to traveling with others. Can we see God more clearly from the eyes of another? Can we learn from their experiences? Can we stretch ourselves to treat them as we would Christ Himself?
As followers of Jesus Christ, we must learn to follow and to follow we must learn to trust. A physical pilgrimage through unfamiliar territory is a great lesson in trust – one must accept whatever the road has to offer – the accommodations, fellow travelers, the weather, the inconveniences, the hardships, the annoyances. A pilgrim heart looks to the journey with willingness, openness, and a good sense of humor. If we choose to trust that God has called us on this journey and He is directing it, we can relax and be open to the lessons He is seeking to teach us. We trust that God will walk the way with us, no matter what happens. He doesn’t promise to make the way easy; He simply says “I will be with you.”
Interested in making a pilgrimage? Check out some of our itineraries: