Pilgrimages can come in all sizes. They might be a week or more long or as short as one day or even an afternoon. They can be as close as a church in your own state or as far as a biblical shrine in the Holy Land.
Whatever the location or situation, everyone can benefit by following some practical tips for pilgrimage planning.
Heading the list is an essential spiritual pointer.
“A lot of times, people approach it as a tourist, and that’s not the right approach,” says Luke Johnasen, pilgrimage director at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Ala.
“Understand the difference between a tour and a vacation,” adds Stephen Ray, speaker, writer-producer-host of the DVD series The Footprints of God: the Story of Salvation From Abraham to Augustine and EWTN guest. “There’s a big difference. A pilgrimage is where we’re going to seek God, do penance and deepen our spiritual life and cleanse our souls. We’re not going to emphasize relaxation and eat fine foods, but (going) to meet with the Lord. A pilgrimage is to be wrapped up with the spiritual practices of the Catholic faith.”
Johnasen points out that this is a time to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, to “enter the temple here to encounter the Lord in the Eucharist,” as happens at the Alabama shrine.
Use travel time for prayer and devotion. “Then when you get to the site the pump is already primed,” Ray says. “The spiritual juices are already flowing. The heart is already singing.”
If you’re going to the Holy Land for the first and maybe only time, Ray says, “Look at the itinerary and pick a day in advance to pray about each of the sites (to visit), and ask God to open your mind, heart and life to what he has for you and your life at that site.”
“Definitely bring along your Bible,” advises Johnasen. “The Spirit is working with each pilgrim in unique ways.”
Adds Ray, “Visit the Blessed Sacrament locally to ask God to open your heart for this trip, and be open to the Holy Spirit to change your life.”
And prepare spiritually in other ways, too.
“Get a few good books to read in advance,” says Ray, who leads many groups to the Holy Land, where he and his wife, Janet, serve as certified guides. He suggests a Catholic devotional book on each of the sites and books on the history and background of the site. That way, “you’re going with history and spiritual preparation.”
And know the saints you will be visiting.
“Read up on their lives,” suggests Father Leo Daly of the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y.
At the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in New Franken, Wis., tour director Karen Tipps points out that people can find information about the history of the apparitions of our Blessed Mother — the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States — on the shrine’s website (see list at end of story). She suggests that before coming people “pray for the openness for what the Blessed Mother is going to be telling you while you are here.”
Next, check details. Call to find out Mass schedules, advises Redemptorist Father Alfred Bradley, director of the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia. Often, a group arrives to visit the shrine and would like to stay for Mass, but they aren’t aware of the times in advance and end up missing Mass.
“Always call ahead to know what your options are,” agrees Beth Lynch, event coordinator at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs. That includes confession times and special events like the Oct. 21 Mass to coincide with the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, who knew these grounds and was baptized seven miles away in Fonda, where the Franciscans run a shrine honoring her.
Such preparations can also lead to pilgrimage additions along the way. For example, in addition to the St. John Neumann Shrine, Philadelphia has the Miraculous Medal Shrine, the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, the Basilica Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and, in the Bensalem suburb, the St. Katharine Drexel Shrine.
And remember the use of sacramentals. Pilgrims on Ray’s tours of the Holy Land, for example, receive a dozen rosaries from Bethlehem on the first day so they can touch them to all of the holy sites they encounter, pray the decade that matches each location and have them blessed.
These rosaries or other holy gifts purchased at shrines can be given as gifts.
“Come home with spiritual gifts for others of what you encountered,” advises Johnasen. “A lot of times when you come here you want to give things to people. But the main thing is to give what you’ve received.”
When people then ask, “How was your vacation?” you’ll end up telling them about the pilgrimage, says Ray, which becomes “a great means of evangelization.”
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.
Most Blessed Sacrament Shrine, OLAMShrine.com
National Shrine of the North American Martyrs, MartyrsShrine.org
National Shrine of St. John Neumann, StJohnNeumann.org
Miraculous Medal Shrine, CammOnLine.org
Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, ShrineofOurLadyofGoodHelp.com
Stephen Ray, FootprintsofGod.com
Top Pilgrimage Places in U.S.
The Official Catholic Directory for 2009-2010 lists the following destinations as the most-visited Catholic destinations in the United States:
National Shrine of the North American Martyrs, Auriesville, N.Y.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore
El Santuario de Chimayo, Chimayo, N.M.
Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Md.
Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, Hanceville, Ala.
Basilica of Our Lady of Victory, Lackawanna, N.Y.
National Shrine of St. John Neumann, Philadelphia
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington