Pilgrimages: Near and Far

Cheryl Dickow looks at the history of pilgrimages.
by Cheryl Dickow | Source: Bezalel Books

More and more Catholics today are taking pilgrimages. Oftentimes, they travel halfway around the world to destinations that include the Holy Land and Italy. They travel individually or as part of groups but either way their main focus is to experience sights, sounds and even smells that will infuse a sense of wonder and awe—a connection to God through His landscapes, visiting buildings built in His honor and simply through the shared experience of like-minded people on the same pilgrimage.

Journeying to a holy spot is something that our Jewish ancestors have always done. The Torah calls for three pilgrimages by Jewish males to Jerusalem: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Passover is the celebration of the Exodus of God’s people from slavery and bondage in Egypt. Shavuot is a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest and Sukkot is the autumn remembrance of the 40 years that the Jews wandered in the desert and depended solely upon God for their food and shelter.

Even today, Matriarch Rachel’s burial spot near Bethlehem is considered a sacred and holy place to which Jews make pilgrimages. Jews who journey to this burial spot spend time in deep contemplation about their history and the way in which God brought forth the 12 tribes of Israel from the Matriarchs Leah and Rachel. All such pilgrimages are meant to bind us to our Creator in unique ways and should always been seen as worth the time, effort, and sacrifice that may be involved to take such an expedition.

A pilgrimage is a journey in which there is a deep desire or interest in setting foot upon a place considered sacred and holy. Catholics have always venerated images and, in keeping with the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, should understand and be able to explain the difference between veneration and worship. As stated in CCC# 2132, “The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.”

So, when a Catholic journeys to such places as the Holy Land, or even a beautiful Church in a nearby city, he or she is acting upon the way in which the Holy Spirit is able to use these places of veneration to create a deeper, more fully contemplative state than may not be otherwise attainable. In that way, a pilgrimage places a person’s whole mind, body, heart, and soul at the Holy Spirit’s grace and mercy.

I recently attended a woman’s conference and was seated in the “spillover” room where those who could not find a spot in the main auditorium were sitting. During Mass a priest made his way to our area and as we were scattered throughout the room I was struck by the visual image as we all made our way towards him to receive Communion. It was very powerful and I thought of the way in which people would journey to see Christ during His life on earth and how they would somberly but with great anticipation approach Him. That small conference, about ½ an hour from my home, was a pilgrimage in both the way the day affected me but also in that moment in time as we all approached the priest from varying spots in the room.

Pilgrimages, near or far, heighten our realization of what it means to be a Catholic. As Lent draws to a close, we may find it both necessary and valuable to find time to journey to a place where our hearts will be more fully open to the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. 

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic author, speaker and publisher. Her website is www.BezalelBooks.com and her latest work is Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman's Guide. She can be reached at 248-917-3865 or Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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