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What makes a “modern pilgrim”?

Pèlerins, pèlerinage, marche, randonnée, chemin

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Daniel Esparza - published on 05/19/24

As pilgrims from all ages have repeated time and again, the truest pilgrimage is not just about reaching a destination, but about the transformative journey itself.

For centuries, the image of the pilgrim — staff in hand, wearing leather sandals, slowly traversing mountains towards a holy shrine with just some bread and water in his backpack — has embodied humanity’s yearning for a life-changing experience, slowly but surely venturing beyond the familiar and known, one step at a time. But in our fast-paced, hyper-connected world, what does it mean to be a pilgrim? How can one become a “modern” pilgrim?

To a great extent, the very essence of what a pilgrimage is has remained: a purposeful journey, often undertaken alone, that pushes us beyond boundaries, en route towards a destination deemed holy. Catholics on pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela or Lourdes today surely get to experience the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of a shared faith on a shared road ­­­– that is, the experience of community. Yet, the modern pilgrimage can also be much more.

Imagine a solo hike along a quiet Camino trail in Spain. The solitude allows for introspection and a deepening of one’s faith. Each step on the path becomes a metaphor for our own life’s journey, with its inevitable hills and valleys. The physical exertion mirrors a psychological and spiritual transformation, not because of reaching a specific destination, but because of the act of “going out.”

This “going out” is literally an exodus, a deliberate move away from the comfort zones we’ve built. It’s about shedding the known and embracing the unknown. The great St. John of the Cross phrased it perfectly: “To come to be what you are not, you must go by a way in which you are not.”

Bridges

As we encounter fellow pilgrims from different walks of life, we build bridges by sharing stories, meals, or the simple act of walking together. These connections forge a heartfelt sense of shared humanity, reminding us that we are all together on the shared pilgrimage of life on Earth, each seeking a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It is a disposition of one’s soul that goes beyond ancient pilgrimage routes. Indeed, going from home to the office can become a Camino if done with the right intention.­

Maybe we do not have time to go on a two-week hike. We might not have the money to fly to Europe and spend weeks walking to Compostela. But the beauty of this fundamental “going out” attitude lies in its flexibility. Sure, you can take a weeklong trek across a relatively short Camino, or go on a longer traditional pilgrimage route. Going out of your everyday life can also mean retreating in a local monastery for a couple of days. Some even consider joining a group focused on specific missions (like social justice or environmental awareness) a “pilgrimage” of sorts. The key is the intentionality: the conscious decision to step outside the ordinary and embark on a faithful journey towards God and others.

So, how can one become a modern-day pilgrim? How can we incorporate this fundamental attitude in our everyday lives? By embracing the transformative power of “going out,” to seek discomfort as a catalyst for growth, and to build bridges with others along the way. As pilgrims from all ages have repeated time and again, the truest pilgrimage is not just about reaching a destination, but about the transformative journey itself – a journey that ultimately leads us towards a freer, more connected, and more spiritually rich life.

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PilgrimagesSpiritualityTravel
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