What’s a pilgrimage?

The simple answer: A pilgrimage is a journey of faith, usually traveling to a place of spiritual significance. Pilgrimages not only benefit us as individuals, but also the whole Church, which we know as the ‘Body of Christ.’

How does a pilgrimage differ from a religious tour?

Beware of companies that label a religious tour as a ‘pilgrimage!’ Religious tours are simply visits to various sites of religious significance – perhaps even the same places where we might take our groups on pilgrimage. However—as mentioned above—pilgrimages are not merely something we do for ourselves, but for the good of the entire world.

When we take groups on a pilgrimage, we have several meetings beforehand to prepare not only logistically, but spiritually and mentally. We particularly use Scripture and Church teaching to form ourselves. Before departure, we ask our family, friends, and acquaintances for their prayer intentions, so that we can carry them on our journey.

During the pilgrimage, we offer those prayers at the holy sites that we visit. We take time to meditate at each place, using Scripture and Tradition. Our spiritual director, a priest, will be available for Confessions and individual spiritual direction, as the Holy Spirit works in each pilgrim. Daily we celebrate the Mass, pray the Rosary and partake in other devotions.

So…is prayer the only difference?

Not quite! Besides prayer and spiritual preparation, pilgrims also differ from religious tourists in their disposition and their acts of solidarity with the local Church.

Imagine you’re on a tour abroad, waiting in a foreign airport with your entire group. You find out that the airline you’re scheduled to use has gone on strike! As a tourist, you might be downright angry with the tour company, the airline, and the whole situation! Everyone is split up into different airplanes on various airlines, and you hope that you’ll find your way back to the group. That night, everyone goes to bed upset and hopes tomorrow will be easier.

Well, we’ve had a similar situation happen to our group! Except, instead of getting angry, we all decided to sit down together and pray. While Mary Jane worked with the person at the ticket counter, she had a group of pilgrims behind her praying the Rosary and hoping for the best. In the end, we were able to get a flight where our pilgrims would stay together – and we praised God for the opportunity to grow in patience! See how a pilgrim’s disposition can make a difference?

You can also see the difference in some of our stops along the way; how many tours would have their groups spend forty minutes in the desert? We’ve brought our pilgrims, who deeply appreciated reflecting on Jesus’ temptation—in the very place it happened.

Finally, a pilgrimage includes some kind of personal encounter and act of solidarity with the local Church. The photo of the Eucharistic Procession above took place during one of our pilgrimages. We visited a Catholic parish in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, in Palestine, and celebrated Mass with the parishioners on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Afterwards, the clergy and parishioners expressed their joy to know that their Brothers and Sisters in Christ abroad are praying for and supporting them. This is one way a pilgrimage ‘builds up the Body of Christ.’

Why experience a pilgrimage?

Pilgrimages have spiritual, mental, physical, and social benefits:

  • Opportunity for a new vision of one’s life & relationship with God
  • Experience an encounter with the Risen Lord
  • Discovery of the rich history of the Church
  • New cultural experiences
  • Occasions to practice acts of charity & develop an attitude of tolerance and patience (traveling with a group is not always easy!)
  • Encounter the “living stones” – local church communities and Christians in the Holy Land