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The idea of a pilgrimage
Dec. 7, 2011 - The Second Vatican Council says that each Christian is a “pilgrim, in a strange land, tracing ... the paths Jesus trod.”
Pilgrims are sojourners—travelers on a quest of faith. Each of us is invited to a path of renewal and redemption, following after Jesus Christ. This is the path of the pilgrim.
Pilgrimages have been an important part of Christian history and culture. Beginning in the fourth century, Christians in the Roman Empire journeyed to the Holy Land to experience the places where Jesus Christ was born, ministered, died and was resurrected. St. Jerome, the great Father and Doctor of the Church, encouraged all Christians to journey on pilgrimages. He believed that a journey of faith was the key to growth in holiness. In 386, St. Jerome wrote that a Christian “no sooner makes progress in religion than when he leaves the setting sun in quest of a spot of which he knows only through Scripture.”
Pilgrimages are also an important part of Christian literature. Christian authors, all the way back to the early Church, have depicted the pilgrimage as a metaphor for the Christian life. This is done most masterfully by Dante, whose “Divine Comedy” follows a pilgrim narrator on a spiritual journey which runs through hell itself, through purgatory and to completion in paradise in unity with the Holy Trinity.
If you’ve never read “The Divine Comedy,” you should pick it up sometime. The texts are rich with poetic images and they outline for us the ugliness of sin, the challenges of the Christian life and the beauty of God’s love.
“The Divine Comedy” also demonstrates what it means to make a pilgrimage. Dante’s journey is undertaken with a guide, it involves great personal sacrifice and a spirit of humility. It reveals to him the love of God. Literally, Dante journeys from the darkness of sin to the light of Jesus Christ. This is the essence of a Christian pilgrimage.
Christians make pilgrimages to pray, to offer penance, and to be renewed in the Christian life. A journey to a holy place reminds us of our life’s journey to eternity in heaven. A pilgrimage can be a sort of microcosm of our whole life.
I have been blessed to make many pilgrimages in my Catholic life. I have walked an ancient pilgrims’ path in Spain. I have prayed in Lourdes, where our Blessed Mother appeared. I have walked in the Holy Land, in the footsteps of Jesus.
Pilgrimages are journeys of prayer to a holy site. They are not always easy or convenient. But they surprise us with the goodness of God.
This June, I will lead a 10-day pilgrimage to the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland. Our group will travel to the holy sites of Ireland. We will celebrate Mass at Knock, where Mary appeared, in the rain, to Irish Catholic peasants. We will visit ancient monasteries and churches. Along the way, we will have some fun together. Most importantly, we will spend three days rejoicing in gratitude for the gift of the holy Eucharist with more than 25,000 Catholics from around the world. The Eucharistic Congress, the culmination of our pilgrimage, will be a joyous celebration of our faith and of our God.
I pray you will join me and other pilgrims of the Archdiocese of Denver on our pilgrimage of faith. We will not, like Dante, begin in hell! But I know that we will experience the love of God together.
The fruit of a pilgrimage is God’s movement in our lives. Dante, at the end of his pilgrimage, said that: “already my desire and my will were turned like a wheel, all at one speed, by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”
Join us. If you can’t, consider a family pilgrimage—a journey of prayer to a holy place. If you become a pilgrim, like Dante, you will be moved by the great love God has for us.
For more information about the pilgrimage to the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, call 715-3207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for past coverage of this exciting event!
Bishop James D. Conley is apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese.
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