As Pilgrim Relationship Coordinator, I have the privilege of interacting with hundreds of pilgrims each year, both before and after their transformational pilgrimage experiences. Through these encounters – on the phone or via e-mail – I know it is not an exaggeration to say a pilgrimage is a life-changing event in the faith life of a pilgrim.
Prior to departure, our conversations involve the practical, temporal aspects of pilgrimage. From what to pack to how much money to bring, questions about insurance to making sure all of their passport and contact information is correct, these exchanges are typically fact-filled and concrete. Following a pilgrimage, both the tone and content of our conversations change.
From conversations, emails, and survey responses, we are blessed to have a glimpse into the faith lives of our pilgrims following their travels and see the changes the Lord is working in their souls. (While we do strive to provide the best Catholic pilgrimage experience possible and relish concrete feedback on how to improve our ministry, we care much more about the souls we serve and each pilgrims’ personal relationship with God.)
We here at Tekton Ministries strongly believe that a pilgrimage is designed to change you – to deepen your relationship with the Lord and encourage you on your earthly journey as you set your sights towards your eternal destination. Practically speaking, what does this mean? How does a pilgrimage change your faith life?
Traveling to the Holy Land offers an opportunity to see the places written about in scripture and genuinely put oneself in the time of Jesus. This experience has impacted generations of pilgrims. When asked how they will live out their faith differently, some recent Holy Land pilgrims from Lafayette, Indiana had many beautiful things to share.
Frank L. shared, “Reading and listening to scripture has more meaning. I can now picture the places and terrain where Jesus walked.” Scott A. said he “will never read another verse without thinking about whether we visited that site.” Deborah W., Paula L., and Leo P. all shared how they will read scripture differently, examine it more closely, and better comprehend it after their pilgrimage experience.
Others felt a less specific tug towards deepening their faith, including Joseph K., who “senses a deeper need to pray,” and Vincent D., who observed that “Praying the rosary, going to Mass, and reading the Bible will all be different now that I have experienced the pilgrimage.”
As it is always the Lord who calls us to pilgrimage, it is no surprise that Scott B. “will have a much closer connection, understanding, and appreciation for Jesus Christ, our Savior and how he has and will impact my life.”
For Kelly L., the pilgrimage was not just about her personal relationship with Christ, but also with our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. “This pilgrimage will help me visualize scripture when I read it or hear it in Mass. I also have a better understanding of life for Christians in the Holy Land. It has changed some of my preconceptions.”
Julie S. is also taking her experience of pilgrimage beyond herself by thinking of how she can impact others. She said, “I will share my journey with those I encounter on a daily basis, encourage those interested to visit the Holy Land, educate them on the struggles Christians are facing there, and try my best to spread God’s word through my actions.”
The details and specific experiences vary, as the Lord speaks to each of us in a unique way, but perhaps Edward G. sums it up best saying, “Just BEING THERE taught us so much. After what we have seen and heard how would it be possible to be the same?”