The culture of pilgrimage is rooted in religion. Faithful of many religions journey to locations around the world with spiritual significance and history. Traveling with a prayerful purpose heightens the mindfulness and meaning while exploring unfamiliar destinations and sights.
There are many references to the concept of pilgrimage in the Bible, both the Old and New Testament — Abraham’s journey to the promised land Israel, the star-led travels of the three wise men to Bethlehem, the preaching pilgrimages of the apostles, and others.
The idea of the pilgrimage is explored in a broader sense in Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the church, that alludes to the pilgrim church in multiple instances. As children of God, we are called to pursue a lifelong “pilgrimage toward eternal happiness.”
With this heavenly purpose for our lives, we should venture on pilgrimages with the intention of growing in virtue and insight to live in a more full and holy way when we return. It is not just a trip of admiration and exploration. As Pope Benedict XVI said,
“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”
So we pilgrimage not in the spirit of vacation or exploration, but in the spirit of encountering Christ through His creation, His faithful, and Church history. As we prepare for our pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland, we reflect on this truth seen in our destinations.
Immersion in the faith history and practices of international cultures lets us experience our faith in new ways — uncovering new dimensions of our relationship with God. In Ireland, we plan to visit the Rock of Cashel, also known as Saint Patrick’s Rock. The site features ancient architecture and constructions including Cormac’s Chapel in the Romanesque style.
Here, we can prayerfully meditate on Saint Patrick’s missionary work in Ireland that started in 432 A.D. The prominent structures at the Rock of Cashel are the cathedral, castle, and Hall of Vicars with the official cross of Saint Patrick. It is also where Saint Patrick baptized King Aengus of Munster, the first Christian ruler of Ireland.
In addition to the awe of the landscape we anticipate experiencing at the Rock of Cashel, its saintly context heightens that wonder. Built atop an outcrop of limestone, it surrounds visitors in ancient tradition and beauty. Wherever you travel on pilgrimage, experiencing the local faith and traditions of the past and present encourage divine encounters.
Journeying to the burial sites of various saints places us in the presence of their graces and memory. When we move on to Scotland, we will visit the Dumferline Abbey in Edinburgh which hosts the tomb of Saint Margaret of Scotland. Referred to as the Pearl of Scotland, she was an English princess and Scottish queen.
Saint Margaret and her family lived in exile from England, and she finally fled to Scotland where she married King Malcolm III. Throughout her reign, she advocated religious reform and influential in bringing Roman Catholicism to Scotland. Committed to helping the vulnerable, she would spend time daily serving orphans and the poor.
To facilitate the local spirit of pilgrimage, Saint Margaret ensured that ferries were available to carry pilgrims traveling to Saint Andrews Cathedral. She used her royal resources and influence to serve God and the people of Scotland, so her tomb is a site to pray for her intercession as a patron of pilgrims and perseverance in faith. Similarly, visiting the burial sites, birthplaces, and hometowns of other saints and religious figures is cause for divine encounter.
Taking the sense of pilgrimage to our domestic or international travels, we can also maintain this spirit in our daily lives — journeying closer and closer to our eternal destination. Our entire life is a pilgrimage toward Heaven and unity with God. And wherever we go, near or far, we can treat our travels as a pilgrimage, seeking to encounter God in the people, places and culture.
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Originally published in USA Today.