To Be a Pilgrim
Pilgrims tell their tales of pilgrimage.
Many thanks to Olen Cesari for the gift of his music.
Saint John Paul II was a pilgrim to 129 different countries on 104 apostolic voyages. JPII: "Each trip made by the Pope is 'an authentic pilgrimage to the living sanctuary of the People of God... the Pilgrim-Pope feels at home everywhere, even 'among strangers.'" - more here.
Pilgrim: Lara, 22 & from the United States
"I think one of the biggest things I took away from the Camino was just a lot of love. I always knew love was important in life but I don't think I realised how important it was until I went on the Camino. The Camino is a very simple way of life, there's not a lot of money involved in it, there's not a lot of materialism at all in it, but those were such happy days because they were filled with love. And I think that I needed that to really show me that life isn't really anything unless you have someone to give love to and then to receive love from."
Pilgrim: Marianne, 32 & from Germany
"It’s just beautiful to participate in community with people and to share a simple life for a week there. You go to pray three times a day, you eat together very simply and you help out with the work. You have Bible study if you want to, a week of silence if you want to, and it feels like home. .. The beauty there is that it's very simple and they don't ask anything of you. You are invited to join the prayers but nobody asks you what you are, who you are, and nobody wants you to proclaim anything, and in that space something can grow."
Pilgrim: Anne-Marie, from Ireland
"For me Knock is very special because we would tend to go as a family when I was younger, and we would go every August and would join the other people who had come on pilgrimage at the end of the summer. .. It's in a really beautiful place where there wasn't very much and it's amazing to think that Our Lady came to somewhere so desolate in the middle of nowhere and lit it all up. "
Pilgrim: Mary, from Manchester, England
"I had the experience to see Our Lady's house where she lived on earth - it was so beautiful, I can't explain it. It was such a holy, holy place. To actually see the place where Our Lady experienced the Incarnation, the Angel Gabriel, it's just amazing, it was just so holy there I was emotionally crying with it, it's so beautiful."
Pilgrim: Joan, from Ireland
"I remember praying to St James before leaving to have an open heart and really to enter this new decade in my life with the hope of really understanding in my heart this call. I wanted to know for myself personally what this call meant for me and how I could walk this path. And, believe you me, walking every day 20 kms was a very, very good experience, very hard but it was wonderful. It combined many things. It combined suffering, it combined great joy, it combined astonishment at the way things happened. And really what I found on this journey was many other people were coming with something in their heart, some people even didn't know why they were but that there was something that had drawn them … I remember one or two people that I met, that really it struck me how St James is leading people spiritually. They want to enjoy the outdoors and walking, which is so healthy, because it's when we come in contact with nature that it gives our spirit, our soul, our body, time to think, time to be, time to experience just the every day toil of tiredness, of hunger, of thirst, and the joy of being with people. But when you met people on the way, on this walk, you really didn't talk about superficial things. You'd certainly say hello and where do you come from, but people really very quickly spoke from the heart."
Pilgrim: Ben, who's 24 & from England
"I went to Lourdes as a medical student and spent a month studying the miracles and cures with Alessandro, who's the head doctor there. If you haven't been to Lourdes, basically, about 5 or 6 million people come every year, and they come there to pay homage to Our Lady. And also they bring sick people along to pray for a miracle or a cure for themselves. In fact, there are 67 miracles which have been officially recognised by the bishop, and there are 7000 miracles which have not been classified by the Church but the medical committee .. believe to be miracles or not explained by science. .. But it's not just the physical miracles which at Lourdes really struck me. It's also the atmosphere there is so encouraging, it's so maternal, it's all centred around Mary, and through Mary to Jesus."
Pilgrim: Laura, who's 28 & from England
"I was really blessed to first go to Paray-le-Monial in 2009, and I've been several times after. A really special place and I think because of this grace of Jesus appearing to St Margaret Mary Alacoque and revealing his heart of love, a heart of fire burning for the love of all souls. I've finished praying a novena to the Sacred Heart today, and I suppose asking for that grace to be able to surrender to the love of Jesus, for him to break down the walls of our hearts so we can love like him."
Pilgrim: Julian, from Colombia en español
"I went as a pilgrim to Medjugorje 5 years ago with my fiancé … At the beginning I was sceptical about Medjugorje since in Latin America we never heard about the apparitions. But once I was there, my first impression was to see around 30 cubicles with priests speaking in many languages and receiving people for confession, day after day, hour after hour. That made me realise that if God is calling so many people to conversion and repentance, the work of the Holy Spirit must be in that place and especially the one with Our Lady."
Pilgrim: Rafal, from Poland
"Me and my woman come to Rome because we are pilgrims and we do hitchhike all the way. So it was more than 24 hours without sleep on the road and finally we are here! .. That was most important thing for me because I was doing this once again hitchhike to Rome for the beatification of John Paul II. .. You've got lots of time to think, lots of time to wonder about your life, what are you doing, where you're going, to pray. So that's why hitchhiking is very good. If you took a plane it would be 2 hours, with coffee, that's it - you will never remember! But if you doing something more than 24 hours, you will never forget. It will be the best memory of your life ever."
Pilgrim: Bria, who's 23 & from the US
"Lourdes was an incredible experience. It is such a place of love, so unique and so different from anywhere else in the world. You have people from all over who’ve journeyed to meet Our Lady and spend time with Our Lord. They’re all helping each other to get there, so that whatever ailment you may have, be it mental, physical, whatever, you can bring it there and people are able to help you. It is such a place of prayer, so peaceful and wonderful, and almost like what the world should be."
Catherine, who's 25 & from England: "I think the thing I liked the most about Lourdes (I’d never been before and I didn’t really know what to expect) was, once I got there, I realised just how much of a holy place it was. You can really, really feel that and you can feel Our Lady’s presence and definiitely just overwhelmed by love."
Dante, who's 18 & from the Philippines: "Overall it was a really good experience. I mean it enlightened me how big the Catholic faith is, like how important it is to everyone around the world because I saw a lot of people from different nationalities all joining together as one, under one religion. .. The most amazing part about my time there was the candlelit Mass at night which was amazing because the entire place was just illuminated by just people and their candles."
Pilgrim: Father Frankie, who's 35 & from England
"We went round on this tour and this tour guide filled us in and ran us up to speed with everything that had happened and the atrocities and the persecutions and the enormity and the horrendous situation of it all. But right at the end, the very last thing she showed us, she said she wanted to show us a cell and this cell she said belongs to a man. It was a true story about a couple of prisoners who had escaped from Auschwitz and the penalty for an escape was that you got everyone into the grounds, all the prisoners, and basically you picked 10 men out at random and starved them to death. This happened and this particular case, she said, one of these men burst into tears and said he had a family and that he couldn't die. And then another man stepped forward and said 'Well, I'll take your place. I'm happy to die instead of you." And she said that man was a priest and he was called Maximilian Kolbe, who went on to become a saint. And in the midst of such darkness and desolation, there was a real light there; you know a light still burns outside his cell. "
Pilgrim: Carmen, from Mexico
"Visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe in her shrine in Mexico City is always wonderful. It’s a great grace just to walk, in silence or praying the rosary. We normally walk from our parents house in the west of Mexico City .. While walking to see Our Lady, being a pilgrim and thanking her for absolutely everything because I know that she has always been there in my life. What is exciting is that I always thought we are probably the only pilgrims but no, along the road we always meet other people and then when we arrive at the main avenue that takes you to the shrine, there are many people walking along .. It’s just amazing to see the great faith of these women or couples or elderly people going over there and seeing Our Lady. There is Mass every hour from 7 o’clock in the morning until very late, and there always priests providing confessions. It’s always a treat for the soul just being there before Our Lady."
Pilgrim: Arianna, who's 23 & from England
"Last year I went to Santiago de Compostela for a pilgrimage and it was very beautiful. I got to meet so many wonderful people on the way and it was a true blessing because there were times when you were walking for 8 hours and you just felt like you couldn't go on but then you'd say a prayer and somehow it would lift you up and it would really help you along the way. It was a truly blessed time to see God working."
Pilgrim: Cécile, who's 22 & from France
"I went to Lourdes with a group of young people and I didn't really know what I was expecting from this pilgrimage, I was just happy to be with Christian friends. With one of my closest friends we decided to go to the Grotto, to be in the water at the place where the Virgin Mary appeared. While I was waiting to go to the baths, I had a really weird feeling; suddenly I really didn't want to go there, everyone was really annoying me and seeing all the ladies waiting to go to the baths and it was really irritating me. I was really angry inside of me and not feeling well, it was really a weird feeling. I wanted to leave but then I was with my friend, so I just stayed. Then I entered the room where we had to be prepared to go into the baths and all those feelings of anger started to disappear but I was really confused. Then the lady brought me into the bath and I had suddenly a deep feeling of relief and when I came out, I kept crying for an hour and a half, and I just didn't understand what was going on. After, over the following days, I had a really a deep peace in my heart and I knew that the Virgin Mary had really restored me in my desire to be holy."
Pilgrim: Ryan, who's 20 & from the United States
"What’s special about Czestochowa is there’s this painting by Saint Luke and it’s beautifully adorned and it has brought so many healings and so many miracles to people from all around the world who come to venerate this image. But this image was special to me because there's a part of the image that was cut by someone who was trying to attack it. It’s an image of Our Lady holding the Christ Child and it’s beautiful, you are just in awe of it when you see it. But she has these two scars across her face and it’s beautiful because it’s symbolic what they're saying, that she wanted to say to the pilgrims who come to venerate her that she is suffering with us. And we can see the scars, that she is taking our suffering. And it just brought me so much closer to our Blessed Mother through this image because I think it shows that we have a mother who is willing to not only go through the joys with us but to go through the sufferings with us. And she is happy to be with her children, especially when we are suffering."
Pilgrim: John, who's 24 & from London
"One of the main messages that struck me was, finishing in Santiago, a priest telling me at Santiago Cathedral they switch round the alpha and omega to the opposite way because they say the end is the beginning. So the end of the pilgrimage is the beginning of a new start. I think the two lessons that I took away from the Camino were, one, it was an opportunity for me to have a regular prayer life and that's what I've tried to take into life since finishing the Camino. The second thing is on the Camino it's very easy to live the Christian life in a very simple way. So sharing your food, carrying very little with you, having no possessions, and everyone's on a similar playing field so it's very easy to interact and people are very open. So those are the two things I've taken from the Camino. The third other thing that I didn't realise until the end was that the Hail, Holy Queen, which is probably my favourite prayer, was written by a Bishop from the Cathedral in Santiago where the pilgrim finishes. So that prayer whenever I say it now reminds me of the Camino."
Pilgrim: Joanne, from Australia
"While I was there I prayed several rosaries, attended several Masses, and at the end of the day I really felt like a new person, completely spiritually refreshed and renewed, all my problems were put into perspective and I just made a resolution that I should once a month put some time aside to do a little pilgrimage, even if it’s just to my local church."
St Peter's Basilica, Rome
Pilgrim: Nick, who's 24 & from the States
"As part of living in Europe, I got the opportunity to go on pilgrimage to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and I think what blew me away the most was getting to pray at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II. My conversion happened in High School when I was about 17 years old, just about a year after he had died, but through the years learning all that he did and his work for the new evangelization and in particular for the youth of the world, I never really realised what an impact he’d had on me until I was there praying at his tomb. I just had this great sense that he had really fathered me in my faith through all the work that he had done for the youth in the Church. So it was a really blessed experience and a highlight of my pilgrimage, for sure."
Pilgrim: Martha, from Scotland
"I have been overwhelmed in many ways and very conscious of the graces that I have received just in the last few days while being here at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow. I see how much Mary is so much a part of Divine Mercy her Son, and how we get so close to Him through her. I think coming from a parish which is dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and whose medal I have been wearing round my neck for a number of months now must surely feature in the fact that I softened my hard shell and took the opportunity when it came to be here. It is a very personal experience coming here and I'm sure for everyone it's similar in many ways but different in so many other ways, because it does touch one to the heart and all through oneself."
Pilgrim: Lorraine, who's 26 & from Ireland
"At that moment I just had a real sense of God's healing presence, it was something so tangible and He was so real to me at that moment, it was just so real. I can remember the following days really praying at the Grotto. It was just the peace. I didn't want to leave. I can remember just saying prayers that I'd learned as a child. I knew that God was real, that Mary was real, and that I wanted to have a relationship with them. I suppose that healing that I experienced on that night, it changed the direction of my life. When I came back from Lourdes, all of my friends noticed that I just had this peace, and I was calm, and I accepted who I was and I knew at that moment and from then on that I was a child of God and that I was really loved by Him."
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Pilgrim: Ben, who's 18 & from England
"Last year I did the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, an 800 km walk. ..I thought it would just be a nice month abroad but for me it became much more spiritual, and I grew closer to God through doing it. By living in community along the way each night, some places there'd be Mass every night, some places there wouldn't but there'd be Evening Prayer, which everyone could join in. It gives you a lot of time for prayer, and through my prayer I felt that by the end of my walk I had come so much further on my spiritual journey."
Medjugorje, Bosnia Hercegovina
Pilgrims: Christianne & Veronica, sisters from England
"I went to Medjugorje several times in the 80s and 90s. After our first visit, my sister and I returned with different people who had expressed a desire to see for themselves the place that Our Lady had chosen for this most special visitation in our time. After our first visit we can back so excited by everything we had felt and witnessed, and I felt that a profound change had taken place within me. Going to Medjugorje most definitely changed my life, deepened my faith. Our Lady touches us in a special way when we make the journey to hear her message. It has been a great blessing, a great challenge, a privilege and most extraordinary blessing to have her messages and presence in our world today."
"It is the most exceptional thing to be gathered with people from all over the world - they really have come from all over the world - and to be praying together. You get a very remarkable sense of the vigour and faith and unity that allows us to belong to each other because of the Holy Spirit's work in the body of Christ; it's very, very moving.
Of course the best and loveliest thing about going to Medjugorje is the realisation that Our Lady knows each of us individually and cares for us in a very powerful and maternal way; and that we can entrust our lives, our needs, our fears, our anxieties and our love to her, and all of this is relayed to Jesus Our Lord in such a perfect way. So my advice would be to anybody who's thinking of going to Medjugorje and who has perhaps thought that they didn't have time or that it wasn't really for them, that they should take this opportunity to say 'well we can't predict how long this miracle will be allowed by God', and not to delay and to go there, and to receive the graces that Our Lady has promised to bestow on all her children."
San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy
Pilgrim: Joshua, who's 20 & from Singapore
"I think what I remember most about the pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo was seeing St Pio's cell and visiting the place where his body lay. It gave me a reminder of how even the saints, who have our devotions and we ask them to pray for us and intercede for us and we know that they are in heaven, it was a reminder that they were also human and facing the same challenges just as us, subject to the same weaknesses and temptations and challenges. So it gave me hope that, even though in the day to day struggles we can fall, sometimes it's difficult, I know that ultimately, by God's grace, that we can make it, that we can be saved, because the saints were in the same place as we are in."
Pilgrim: Paul, from England
"It was a time of discovering who Mary is for me in my life at this time because sometimes my relationship with Mary takes a back seat. I found through the 3 days I was there to really enjoy a love for Mary again, to discover the rosary in more depth, to understand her ideas for the world and what her example can be for me today and for the rest of humanity."
Tommy went with his wife for their honeymoon on pilgrimage from Poland to Spain for World Youth Day Madrid, staying with friends along their pilgrim way (they had been at their 1st WYD together with Papa Benedetto back in 2005 in Cologne, Germany): "I think the beauty of pilgrimages is that normally we go on pilgrimage through life and we never have enough time to pray and discover new things, or even the silence to hear God and speak to God. Perhaps I didn't have the silence to reflect upon different things because of all the partying at World Youth Day with the youth, and the celebrational aspects of World Youth Day and the fact that the Pope is coming and that we are all one union, but I think we met that silence when we got to visit a priest in the south of Spain in a little, little town, so all my spiritual needs were really satisfied."
Pilgrim: Frankie, from England
"As you get nearer and nearer to the Grotto, you can feel the peace, you can feel the quietness and I really do think Our Lady literally leads you by the hand to bring you closer to her son's heart in Lourdes. And I think it's a great place of challenge, but also as well in the silence realising what's important, what's worth living for and fighting for. I've been very blessed as well to witness young people go to confession out in Lourdes, young people go to confession who haven't been for a number of years, and I've really seen them be touched by God's spirit of love; the Holy Spirit has really touched them in the Sacrament of Confession and I've really seen lives changed. I think it's to do partly with the powerful intercession of Our Lady, who invites people to come closer to the face of love, which is the face of Christ Himself as they encounter Him, not only in the Eucharist and in the Sacraments but in the face and love of other pilgrims."
Pilgrim: Rachel, from Scotland
"Each time that I've been to Paray-le-Monial (I've been there 3 times now) it's been a really blessed and a very deep experience in my faith journey. And I would say that this image of Christ and the revelation of His Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary is the image of Christ that touches me the most and that speaks to me the most: Christ's open heart that he shared with this saint and shared through her to the world, and the burning love that He has through His Sacred Heart and this desire, this thirst, for us to return some of that love that He so yearns for from us. Every time that I've been there, I've just experienced a great peace and just resting there with him, and just really experiencing Christ's heart and being with Him and receiving that grace, and experiencing this intense love that Christ has for each of us and for Christ's Church."
"This time I knew that the Lord was calling me to something else, to that inner journey, that pilgrimage, that journey of the soul, that journey within. So my journey within started about 6 months ago and, having thought that I was going to be travelling around the world, I realised that that was not what the Lord wanted, that was not where he was taking me. So I've been looking for little signs and asking him where he'd like me to go and one of those places was to Medjugorje ... Each day at Mass I would pray and ask Our Lady to guide me; because I wasn't on a formal pilgrimage, I asked her each day to guide me and each day I would meet different people and it would become very clear where she wanted me to go. So on one day I climbed the mountain of apparitions and met Our Lady in a very profound way on that mountain; and another day she called me to climb the mountain of the Cross, Krizevac, and again I journeyed with Our Lady up that mountain, meeting different pilgrims on the way but also meeting the Lord. As I met the Lord he would guide me and help me to discern the way forward in my life. "
St Davids, Wales (during Pilgrimage 2000)
Pilgrim: Ruth, from Britain
"It left me with a sense of 'gosh, what a reflection of life in general it was.' I'd left St Davids feeling very overwhelmed by life in general really and what was this time going to include and quite what had I got myself into? All along the way, I was cared for and looked after, and the reality of God was very evident in the simplicity of every day and in the goodness of every day and just being alive. So, for me, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience of being a pilgrim."
Pilgrim: Father Tom, from England
"As I was walking I was often on my own and being able to reflect in silence on the places where Jesus had walked, where he'd talked, the places that had really shaped him. As I was walking I was meditating on different passages from the Bible, of Jesus walking along and his closeness to nature. I was struck by the beauty of the nature surrounding me, I was really struck by the beauty of the birds, of the Sea of Galilee, of all the very rich agriculture around. I think it really gave me an insight into Jesus's world, but more than that into his heart. into that sense of His journey, of the many journeys which He undertook, those physical journeys but also those journeys of the heart. I think Jesus always invites us to journey further, to journey deeper."
Chapel on the Rock, USA
Pilgrim: Erin, from the USA
"There was this storm brewing over the mountains. If you can imagine these mountains receding into the darkness and the white statue of Christ shining out among them. The view was absolutely breathtaking. It was as if one were beholding the coming of Christ. And then lightning started to flash over the peaks, really bold flashes of lightning, and we just stood there from a distance and watched the beauty of the storm. This tremendous reality of God, present, acting, powerful, and there was one flash of lightning that came just over a mountain near to the statue of Christ and almost seemed to point down at him. And the only way that I can describe this moment, the experience of seeing that, was like hearing the words directly from Him: "Be still and know that I am God."
The Hill of Crosses, Lithuania
"The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania started out as a place with only a few crosses put there by Christians in Lithuania and then Russians came in and knocked all the crosses down. Then people replaced them and the Russians came back, and the people replaced them and finally the Russians gave up. To go there now and see every square inch covered with crosses, on an area about the size of a football field, is an objective testimony to love of God and the strength that God gives people under incredible circumstances."
Le Puy-en-Velay to Santiago de Compostela
Pilgrim: Jonathan, from London, on Il Camino.
"Coming to the end of a long pilgrimage is a very rewarding sensation but it's not accompanied in a sense by lots of fireworks or excitements, it just has a general contentment that you have walked this great distance, and done lots of praying on the way and been to lots of Masses on the way and had lots of lovely conversations with all sorts of people on the way, but there was no particular sense of rejoicing because it had come to an end, which in itself was rather sad. So we spent 3 quiet days in Compostela; the weather was lovely and we got to know Santiago a bit and then we left in a bus early one morning and that was the end of it all."
"Santiago de Compostela is a place that has рlауеd a very important role in the history of Christianity; and so, its spiritual message is in itself very eloquent. Throughout the centuries the рlасе has been a "point of attraction and convergence for Europe and for the whole of Christendom... all Europe gathered around the 'memory' of James during the very centuries when it was building itself into a homogeneous and spiritually united continent" (cfr. "European Act" at Santiago de Compostela, 9 November 1982, in Insegnamenti V/3, 1982, pp. 1257-1258).
At the tomb of St James we want to learn that our faith has historical foundations; it is not something vague and transient. In the world of today, marked by a serious relativism and great confusion in values, we must always remember that, as Christians, we are truly built up on the stable foundations of the Apostles, with Christ himself as the cornerstone (сfr Eph 2:20).
At the tomb of the Apostles, we also want to receive again Christ's mandate: "You shall be my witnesses... Right to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). St James was the first to seal his witness of faith with his own blood. For all of us he is an example and an excellent teacher.
Santiago de Compostela is not only a Sanctuary. It is also a route: a closely-woven network of pilgrimage roads. The "Santiago 'Trail" was for centuries a pathway to conversion and an extraordinary witness to faith. Along this way arose visible monuments to the pilgrims' faith: churches аnd hospices.
Pilgrimage has a very deep spiritual significance; it can represent in itself an important form of catechesis. The Church - as the Second Vatican Council reminded us - is, indeed, a people of God on the march, "in search of a future and permanent city" (cfr. Lumen Gentium, n. 9). In the world today there is a revival of the practice of going on pilgrimage, especially among the youth. Today, you are among those more inclined to experience a pilgrimage as a "way" to interior renewal, to a deepening of faith, a strengthening of the sense of communion and solidarity with your brothers and sisters and as a help in discovering your personal vocation."
Papa BXVI - "The Letter to the Hebrews shows what faith is in the figure of Abraham who leaves his land and lives his whole life as a pilgrim bound for the future. And this Abrahamic movement is perpetrated in the act of faith, above all it means being a pilgrim inwardly, but it must also be expressed outwardly. Sometimes it means emerging from one's daily routine, from the practical world, from utilitarianism, emerging only to be really on the way towards transcendence; to transcend oneself, to transcend daily life and thus also to find a new freedom, a time of interior rethinking, of self identification, of seeing the Other, God, and thus it is also and always a pilgrimage. It is not only coming out of oneself towards something greater, but is also travelling together. The pilgrimage unites: together we journey towards the other and thus we discover each other. It suffices to say that the caminos of St James were an important element in the formation of the spiritual unity of the European Continent. It was here, on pilgrimage, that people found one another, they found their common European identity, and today too this movement is reborn, this need to be spiritually and physically in movement in order to find one another and thus also silence, freedom, renewal and to discover God." (6.10.10)