Making a Year of Faith Pilgrimage



Pope Benedict has declared this a Year of Faith—an opportunity for all Catholics to delve into the richness of what the Church has taught and preserved for over 2000 years. Many people are asking what they can do to enrich their faith during this time. In addition to bible studies like the Great Adventure, reading the Documents of Vatican II, studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, setting aside time for prayer and meditation, attending Mass more than once a week, is there anything else?

What about the ancient practice known as a pilgrimage? According to the Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices  pilgrimage is “the practice of traveling to a holy place to obtain some spiritual benefit.” Christians have been making pilgrimages for centuries, some to places that Christ was known to have visited, and others to shrines or other holy places associated with the Blessed Mother or the saints. One of the most famous pilgrimages which has been memorialized for all time in The Canterbury Tales is the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in England.

It used to be that people would undergo the hardship of going to the Holy Land to visit the places where Our Lord lived, worked, taught and died. Those trips were arduous and fraught with danger, but those who could do it, made the requisite sacrifices to do so. Today it is not so difficult, and many people fly to the Holy Land on pilgrimage.

There are numerous pilgrimage sites in Western Europe with Our Lady as the focus: Lourdes, Fatima and Notre Dame to name but a few. A comprehensive travel guide with addresses, phone numbers and other practical information is Catholic Shrines of Western Europe, which leads you to seventy pilgrimage sites not only with Our Lady as the focus, but also with Eucharistic miracles and places made holy by the presence of various saints. From the most famous to many you may never have heard of, these are still worth the effort to visit.

Not to be neglected are the Shrines of Eastern Europe. In his Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Eastern Europe, Fr. Benedict Groeschel leads pilgrims to the famous shrines of Poland and other Eastern European Countries. The beauty of this resource is that for those who can’t actually make the journey, they can pray along with Fr. Groeschel and see the sites through the eye of the camera.

With the release of Martin Sheen’s The Way, there is a new-found interest in the Way of St. James, or simply, The Camino. This is a long pilgrimage of about 500 miles which begins in France, crosses the Pyrenees Mountains and treks along Northern Spain to the famous shrine which houses the relics of the Apostle James. There are many resources available for those hearty souls who want to make this pilgrimage, including Hiking the Camino and Discovering the Camino de Santiago.

Christianity in the British Isles is ancient, and there are many opportunities for pilgrims to connect with their forefathers in the Faith. Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Great Britain is the perfect companion for those who want to visit shrines to St. Brigid, St. Patrick or any of the great saints who lost their lives during the Protestant Revolution in England.

But, you may say, “I can’t go so far from home.” Fear not, there are many places of pilgrimage right here in the United States. Many of our cathedrals have been designated as basilicas and carry the privilege of indulgences for pilgrims to them. There are numerous shrines around the country which make a place of pilgrimage available to people in all locations. Marian Shrines of the United States is an invaluable tool in finding a site near you.

If you are in the Southwest, you will want to visit the Shrine at Chimayó. This shrine outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is venerated for the presence of “healing” dirt, and whether or not the dirt heals, many people come to this shrine and find spiritual consolation. There are reports of physical healings as well, however. The Archbishop of Santa Fe has often led a pilgrimage to Chimayó during Holy Week; not unlike the penitents of Spain and Mexico.

Pilgrimages should not be confused with tourist travel to “see the sights.” Pilgrimages, by definition are specifically for gaining spiritual benefit. So, while the pilgrim will in fact “see the sights,” he will hopefully be drawn in to prayer, penance and greater love for Our Lord who has so generously provided us with many reminders of the Faith which we hold dear. And for those who can’t travel, they can still put themselves at those sites mentally and prayerfully and gain much benefit through their contemplation of the mysteries of the Faith.

In his statement on the indulgences to be earned for the Year of Faith Pope Benedict XVI included the following:

Each time they visit, in the course of a pilgrimage, a papal basilica, a Christian catacomb, a cathedral church or a holy site designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith (for example, minor basilicas and shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Apostles or patron saints), and there participate in a sacred celebration, or at least remain for a congruous period of time in prayer and pious meditation, concluding with the recitation of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith in any legitimate form, and invocations to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, depending on the circumstances, to the Holy Apostles and patron saints.

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