Pilgrimage: Spiritual Background and Meaning

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. JEREMIAH 6:16

A pilgrimage is a journey to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. A pilgrim is more than a tourist and a pilgrimage is more than a journey. A pilgrim travels with a spiritual purpose, a goal to be closer to God. The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making one’s way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach a designated Holy Door, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. Pilgrimage will be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us. Pilgrimage causes change in the pilgrim – a transformation takes place that shows the journey was one of spiritual formation.

For those unable to travel due to physical or other constraints, a “pilgrimage of the heart” is possible. One simply finds a quiet place, “unplugs” from the many electronic distractions that surround us, and quietly prays to be aware of God’s presence. Using a mental image of passing through a doorway, one would ask for God’s assistance in moving through the challenges that one faces in life. Offering prayers for those who are on pilgrimage is another way of spiritually connecting with a pilgrimage site.

As is traditional, those making pilgrimages will be asked to turn away from any attraction to sin, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, attend a Eucharist, and pray for the pope's intentions in order to receive the full mercy of God’s indulgence.

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