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Why do people go on pilgrimages?

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 03/05/13

A pilgrimage is not a vacation or sightseeing tour but a quest to encounter God

A pilgrimage is a journey one undertakes to a sacred place with the intention of asking for the Lord’s blessing in one’s life, in supplication for a particular petition, or even to ask for physical or psychological healing. The pilgrimage could be as immense as taking a trip to the Holy Land to walk in Christ’s footsteps or as simple as visiting a nearby shrine or grotto. Pilgrims make these trips not as a vacation or sightseeing tour, but as a prayer and as a quest to encounter the Lord.

Pilgrimages have been taking place since the earliest days of the Church, begun by those who wished to see the places where Jesus lived and taught. As the history of the Church continued, pilgrims journeyed to venerate the relics of great saints and the sites of Marian apparitions around the world. One of the longest standing pilgrimage routes, the Camino de Santiago, has been taken by pilgrims since the 12th century to reach the relics of St. James the Greater in the Cathedral Basilica of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.

To those who care for pilgrimage destinations, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “different from a wanderer whose steps have no established final destination, a pilgrim always has a destination, even if at times he is not explicitly aware of it. And this destination is none other than the encounter with God through Christ in whom all our aspirations find their response” (Source). Pilgrimages to shrines and other holy places recall that our entire lives on earth are a pilgrimage to reach heaven. By taking a pilgrimage, we choose to recognize that the ultimate goal of our life is union with God, and that our whole life, therefore, should be a prayer in itself.

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