"In the Footsteps of Saints and
Angels” I went through Italy
two summers ago. Franciscan
Pilgrimage Programs took our group
to places associated with St. Michael
the Archangel, St. Pio of Pietrelcina
(Padre Pio), Sts. Francis and Clare
of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua and
Blessed Pope John XXIII.
It was one of the highlights of my
life. Besides seeing places important
in the lives of my favorite saints, I
had a chance to pray in those places.
I will never forget Greccio where
Francis was inspired to reenact the
Bethlehem story or Clare’s simple
dormitory where she died.
Even though I’m an introvert, I really
got to know my fellow pilgrims, their
life stories and struggles with faith. My
companions, too, were among the
“Saints and Angels” I encountered.
First Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
How does a place become holy? It is
either where holy men and women
have lived and died, or a spot in nature
(like a mountaintop) where the veil
between heaven and earth seems thin,
as Celtic people describe it. Either way,
the God of immense love becomes
Since St. Helena wanted to find the
exact spot where Jesus was born and
died, Palestine has been thought of as “the Holy Land.” Nothing brings you
closer to Jesus than praying among the
fragrant olive trees in the Garden of
Gethsemane or seeing fishermen bring
in their catch off the Sea of Galilee. No
wonder this land is sometimes called
“the fifth gospel.”
I’ve twice had the opportunity to go
to Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem,
and sincerely hope that the politics of
the Middle East settle down so that
others have the chance to nourish their
faith at the root.
Many pilgrimages have as their destination
a shrine built around relics,
miraculous statues, apparitions or the
witness of saints.
For isolated people in the Middle
Ages, going on pilgrimage was an exciting
prospect. All students of English
literature are familiar with The
Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s
stories offered by a group of pilgrims
en route to the tomb of the martyred
St. Thomas à Becket.
The United States has 106 pilgrimage
shrines dedicated to Our
Lady, like La Conquistadora at the
cathedral in Santa Fe. While there
last November, I was touched to
learn that the statue no longer refers
to the Spanish conquest over the
native peoples but to Mary’s conquest
of our hearts.
When I was in high school, my
family took a trip across eastern Canada
and made it a point to stop at St.
Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Cap-de-la-Madeleine and the Shrine-Basilica
of St. Anne de Beaupré. (I thought all
Catholics went to shrines while on
vacation.) Most of the two million pilgrims
who come each year to St. Anne’s
shrine pray to Jesus’ grandmother for
healing of family members.
Pilgrimage involves interior change.
That’s how it differs from tourism. And
that’s why people can be on pilgrimage—even in their living rooms. In my
heart I’m always on pilgrimage.
For information on specifically
consult www.FranciscanPilgrimages.com. For other pilgrimages, see ads in
the Catholic press.