Franciscan Spirit Blog

Roamin’ Catholic: The Journey Inward

Journeying to holy places, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (pictured above), is as much an inward journey as outward.

I went through Italy three summers ago. Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs took our group to places associated with St. Michael the Archangel, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. John XXIII.

It was one of the highlights of my life. Besides seeing places important in the lives of my favorite saints, I had a chance to pray in those places. I will never forget Greccio, where Francis was inspired to reenact the Bethlehem story or Clare’s simple dormitory where she died.

Even though I’m an introvert, I really got to know my fellow pilgrims, their life stories and struggles with faith. My companions, too, were among the “Saints and Angels” I encountered.

But how does a place become holy? It is either where holy men and women have lived and died, or a spot in nature (like a mountaintop) where the veil between heaven and earth seems thin, as Celtic people describe it. Either way, the God of immense love becomes almost tangible.

Since St. Helena wanted to find the exact spot where Jesus was born and died, Palestine has been thought of as “the Holy Land.” Nothing brings you closer to Jesus than praying among the fragrant olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane or seeing fishermen bring in their catch off the Sea of Galilee. No wonder this land is sometimes called “the fifth gospel.”

I’ve twice had the opportunity to go to Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, and sincerely hope that the politics of the Middle East settle down so that others have the chance to nourish their faith at the root.

The Pilgrimage Perspective: Beyond Assisi

Many pilgrimages have as their destination a shrine built around relics, miraculous statues, apparitions, or the witness of saints. For isolated people in the Middle Ages, going on pilgrimage was an exciting prospect. All students of English literature are familiar with The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s stories offered by a group of pilgrims en route to the tomb of the martyred St. Thomas à Becket.

The United States has 106 pilgrimage shrines dedicated to Our Lady, like La Conquistadora at the cathedral in Santa Fe. While there a few years ago, I was touched to learn that the statue no longer refers to the Spanish conquest over the native peoples but to Mary’s conquest of our hearts.

When I was in high school, my family took a trip across eastern Canada and made it a point to stop at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Cap-de-la-Madeleine and the Shrine-Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupré. (I thought all Catholics went to shrines while on vacation.) Most of the two million pilgrims who come each year to St. Anne’s shrine pray to Jesus’ grandmother for healing of family members.

Pilgrimage involves interior change. That’s how it differs from tourism. And that’s why people can be on pilgrimage—even in their living rooms. In my heart I’m always on pilgrimage.

For more on Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs, click here or the image below!

Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs


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