Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Pilgrimage A GIft From God

I was recently asked what the value of pilgrimage was - did many people go on pilgrimage - why do I promote pilgrimage so aggressively.  My introduction to pilgrimage is fairly recent - beginning in January of 2010.  At that time a friend who was in the Diaconate Formation program informed me that there was an opportunity for deacons and their wives and deacon candidates to go on pilgrimage to Israel - The Holy Land - to travel as a group of deacons.  Having been urged by my pastor - "you must go to the Holy Land" - I followed his advice and jumped at the opportunity to participate in my first pilgrimage.  Up to that point - my wife and I had already been introduced to international travel for the previous eleven years - so we were comfortable traveling to Israel. Having already visited Denmark - Poland - Italy - England - Ireland - Spain numerous times - going overseas did not concern us.  We were always open to exploring new opportunities to discover more of this awesome world - its cultures - peoples.  Our initial travels were always on our own - traveling by ourselves - at our pace - going wherever we wanted - nothing to hinder our desire to explore - follow any whim or impulse - going with the moment - unscheduled - unarranged.    

Wensleydale - Yorkshire Dales, England  "Home of the Metcalfes"

Going on pilgrimage - most often is a group experience - flying together - traveling with a guide - in a bus - following a predetermined schedule and timeline.  Initially we had to adjust to this style of  travel - what we learned is that you never turned down a wrong road - never got lost - always had a place to eat and sleep - companions with whom you could share the experience. Thus our interest in leading others on pilgrimage became a priority as a ministry as a deacon and chaplain.  Over the course of the past eight years - we have led some twenty pilgrimages.  Some as short as one day discovering local sites - others as an overnight experience - still others as eight - nine - fourteen days in length.  Our groups have been as small as four and as large as fifty-six. Each experience has always added value to ourselves and those who have traveled with us. 

Poland - Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy - St. Faustina Kowalska

For ourselves - whenever we travel on pilgrimage - focusing on God's presence everywhere we  travel - in the churches and palaces - in the peoples we travel with and those we meet - the stories we hear and those we share - we learn and grow both in historical and spiritual knowledge.  In hearing stories about these special people and places - we become inspired in our own lives.  Most pilgrimages - experienced by the majority of people - are very similar to any other vacation trip - international flights usually in coach class - decent meals - local cuisine - three and four star hotels - air conditioned buses - trained and licensed tour guides.  The main difference with a pilgrimage is the focus is more on the religious - spiritual aspect of life. Visiting places where well known religious leaders - saints - prophets - teachers lived and worked - seeing the churches and structures - places associated with them and their lives is normally the main focus - blending interesting secular sites in as well. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization - over 300 million people go on pilgrimage each year - the desire to visit religious and spiritual sites fueling tourism growth. 

100 Kilometer Marker - Camino de Santiago - Getting Close To Santiago

On the very old and popular Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain - one of the top three religious pilgrimages - over a quarter of a million people travel yearly - mostly on foot - the 780 kilometers (500 miles)  to the Cathedral of Saint James in Santiago, Spain. In fall of 2013 my wife and I walked from Pamplona to Santiago - approximately 400 miles over the course of five weeks ourselves.  That was an individual pilgrimage for us - the two of us - by ourselves - no group - following a guide book and finding food and beds along the way - trusting that God would lead us to both when needed.  For thirty some days we walked mostly in silence - meeting pilgrims from some twenty-four countries - all doing the same. We meditated - prayed - sang songs - experienced God in all the simple things in life as we walked.  In one hundred degree temperatures - in gentle rain - walking westward always into the sun - starting often in foggy cool mornings - a cafe con leche and piece of toast to start the day - we walked.  In those very quiet private times we drew ourselves closer to God - an experience which cannot be adequately described - one of those things that you just have to experience for yourself.

2018 Holy Land Pilgrimage Group - People from the USA - Israel - London

The groups that we have led on pilgrimage are as varied as the people themselves. We have never had any single group from any one specific location - religion - ethnicity - travel with us. Although a Catholic group in focus we have always welcomed and have had non Catholics travel with us. The one common thing that we have shared is that each of us is still seeking a deeper understanding - knowledge of God and the part we play in that relationship.  Initially as strangers - within one or two days at most - we become a family - sharing meals - lives in common during our time together.  It is not unusual for strangers to develop strong bonds and relationships because of a pilgrimage.  Numerous people who have traveled with us have become very fast friends with someone who was on that same pilgrimage.  Everyone - on every pilgrimage - has thanked us for arranging their experience - thanking us for their eyes being opened by God to all that He has to offer - specifically through each other.  What might you experience on a pilgrimage?  That depends all on you and what it is that you are searching for - we don't have the answer - it is completely up to you to experience a pilgrimage for yourself - to experience it as A gift from God.

For more information on our pilgrimages - where we have gone and where we plan to go - please visit DeaconTravel - CaminoWakers Ministries. 

Deacon Dale