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A Pilgrim People
By Susan Hines-Brigger


A Long-standing Tradition
Get Going
For Teens: Go On a Scavenger Hunt
For Kids: Destination Anywhere

This month, hundreds of thousands of young people will take part in their own pilgrimage as they travel to Sydney, Australia, for World Youth Day (July 15-20). And many others will be heading off for summer vacations. Let’s face it: Our Church refers to us as a pilgrim people for a reason. And while most of us may never experience pilgrimage on such a grand scale as World Youth Day, the concept of pilgrimage is and has been an important part of our faith for quite some time. And the beauty is that we can all experience it in our own ways and places.

This past April, I had two very different experiences of pilgrimage myself, each special in its own way. First, I covered the Washington, D.C., leg of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States. Then the following weekend, I joined my family for a weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. These two trips could not have been any more different in nature and scope—one formal, the other more relaxed—but each one represented a type of spiritual journey for me. And both trips brought me a little closer to God, which is exactly what a pilgrimage is supposed to do.

In Washington, I followed the pope from the White House to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to Washington Nationals Park. The entire time, in between my work assignments, I tried to connect with the meaning behind each of these locations and events and the pope’s words. Surely there was a reason why those sites were chosen and why the pope chose those particular words.

My trip to Gatlinburg, however, was more of a personal pilgrimage. During our days spent hiking and exploring, I reconnected with my family, nature, God and myself. After the previous hectic week, it was a much-needed journey back to center.


A Long-standing Tradition

Pilgrimage has been a part of the Catholic faith—as well as other faiths— for centuries. It is a long journey of faith—either physically or spiritually— in search of God. Most often it is associated with the life of Jesus, such as the Holy Land. But it can also have a connection with a particular saint, such as Assisi, where Sts. Francis and Clare traveled. In fact, if you think about it, life is one long pilgrimage, constantly seeking ways to better ourselves and come closer to God.

Some other popular religious pilgrimage sites are Ireland, Rome, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Lourdes and Fatima. But throughout the world there are thousands of smaller pilgrimage sites.

But pilgrimages don’t have to require lots of money or faraway locations. For instance, Californians can easily make a pilgrimage to the early Franciscan missions there. Or perhaps there is a place near you that gives you the sense of being on a spiritual pilgrimage.

Whether at home or abroad, you and your family can go on pilgrimage. Here are some suggestions:

Go virtually. Can’t make it to World Youth Day or afford a family trip to Assisi? Take advantage of technology and go on pilgrimage via the Web or DVDs. St. Anthony Messenger Press offers the DVD Assisi Pilgrimage: Walking in Faith with Francis and Clare, where people can take part in the pilgrimage from the comfort of their own home. Or search the Internet for live Web cams of places such as the beach, the mountains, etc. The National Park Service ( has a number of them set up in various parks.

Work backward. The last place that I had hiked before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis was in the Smoky Mountains, so it seemed logical that, in order to move forward mentally, that was where I needed to go. That knowledge was my jumping-off point, and then the trip was planned around the specific trail I needed to conquer. Start with a feeling, a longing, for what you need to accomplish and build your pilgrimage on that.

Seek out local pilgrimages. Chances are there are pilgrimages rather close to home. In fact, the United States has 106 pilgrimage shrines dedicated to Mary alone. Do some research and plan a day trip to one of these nearby sites. If the thought of going on pilgrimage seems too overwhelming, just take a moment and remember that the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim is simply a change of heart.


Pilgrimages are all about going in search of something. Another fun way to do this is by going on a scavenger hunt. The best part of these hunts is you can make them as simple or as complex as you like.

Once you have decided how elaborate you want the hunt to be, make up a list of items to be found. Remember, though, to get permission for any items you borrow, and return them when you are done.

If you are doing a nature scavenger hunt, have participants find items such as acorns, pinecones, gardening tools, etc. I saw a good idea on the Internet for a community service scavenger hunt where participants were given a list of service-oriented things to do for people, such as read a book to a child or take out someone’s garbage. Teams could prove they did this by either bringing along a video camera or taking pictures. Then at the end of the hunt everyone could share their films/pictures. This might be a nice idea for your youth group.

If you were able to go on a trip anywhere, where would it be and why? After you pick a place, do a little research to find out more. Perhaps an adult could help you send for some brochures. When you’re done, put everything that you’ve learned into a book to share with others. You never know: It may become a vacation destination for you and your family someday, and then you’ll already have a reference book for your trip.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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