If you’re involved in a Catholic parish, school, community, or ministry, whether you’re a priest, a ministry leader, or a passionate volunteer, there’s a chance you’ve thought about leading a group on a Catholic pilgrimage. Maybe it was just a fleeting thought, or maybe you’re ready to pull the trigger but unsure of some details. Either way, take a look at this short guide on how to go from vision to reality.
Determine Why You’re Going
Well before you say the words “I’d love to go to [insert popular destination],” take a moment to determine why you want to take a group on a pilgrimage.
- What is the goal for this pilgrimage?
- What do I hope that my pilgrims will gain from this experience?
- Is my goal to bring a more tight-knit community or will the trip be open to all?
- Am I hoping to encourage a better prayer life?
- Do I wish for a fuller understanding of who God is for my group?
Taking time at the beginning to think about your goals for the pilgrimage will help you stay true to your mission throughout the pilgrimage. And, these questions may help you determine your group’s ideal destination based on your objectives.
Partner Up and Plan
After you decide on your goals, it’s time to start thinking about how to make that vision a reality. More specifically, finding a pilgrimage company that will be a partner in fulfilling that mission.
We occasionally meet some group leaders who enjoy the logistical planning of a pilgrimage. But more often than not group leaders don’t know where to begin. Whether it’s making group flight arrangements or finding the best restaurants to enjoy during a pilgrimage, planning a pilgrimage can be a daunting task. For this reason, you’ll want to find a pilgrimage partner who can help take those pesky details off your hands so that you can focus on your ministry.
Be sure and find a partner that shares your vision of pilgrimage. There are real differences between travel companies, and your trip may look very different depending on who you go with. Some companies take their typical leisure itineraries and sprinkle in a few religious sites. These might come at a good price but may leave you wanting for more spiritual direction. Others lean heavily into the religious aspects of the trip but aren’t as concerned with the historical, cultural, and culinary aspects of the trip.
Here at Verso, we offer the perfect balance of both spiritual guidance and travel expertise. We know all the ins-and-outs of guiding you at the sacred sites, while also making sure you’re catching all the must-see cultural landmarks and hidden gems of the city.
Gather Up Your Group
So you’ve determined the why, the where, and the how. But now to figure out the who. Which means — it’s recruiting time!
To get the most out of your trip preparation, consider a small but well-organized marketing campaign to sell the trip to would-be pilgrims. This could consist of announcements in your newsletter or bulletin, posters, social media posts, individual outreach, or special meetings held for those interested. None of these have to break the bank, and you may have volunteers who are willing to lend their help. Whatever you do, just remember that intentionality plus repetition go a long way.
Sound a bit daunting? We hear you. That’s why if you work with Verso Ministries, we’ll help you every step of the way. We’ll provide all of the marketing materials to ensure that your group pilgrimage is a success. This includes bulletin announcements, social media posts, a poster, and brochure — all customized for your group. We’ll even host a virtual info night with you to showcase the destination, itinerary, and package, as well as answer any questions first-hand. In the end, you may have more people than you even hoped for!
Prepare Your Pilgrims
Perhaps the most important thing you can do as the group leader is to prepare your pilgrims for the experience.
Our experience is that the more people are prepared for the logistical and spiritual journey, the more they get out of it. One of the biggest benefits of working with Verso is that you can leave the logistical planning entirely up to us, which gives you more time to focus on your ministry. At the same time, we actively help you prepare your pilgrims spiritually for the journey as well.
Consider doing the following to help prepare your group:
- Meet up one, two, or even three times as a group to get to know each other better, talk through the trip, and pray together. Can’t meet in person? We’ll help you host a virtual meet-and-greet!
- Ask everyone to write down their own goals and prayers for the trip. You might even have them share some of these during group meetings.
- Hand out information and/or a book on your destination to give people historical and spiritual context. (Talk to us first as we have a lot of resources in this area!)
- Pray for your pilgrims often.
- Ask if there is anything that people are going through or want to talk about before going on the pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a great time to consider changes in your life, but other things may be better to try and work through beforehand, rather than deal with on the trip.
Take Your Group on the Trip of a Lifetime
Now for the pilgrimage!
Once all the bags are packed and the journey begins, it’s time to sit back and allow the Holy Spirit to go to work. You should be present to your group, spiritually guiding them and helping to open the door for them. Lead them in prayer, ask them questions about their experience, and give them time to take it all in. Most importantly, ask them the “So what?” question. As in, we visited these amazing and meaningful pilgrimage sites, but so what? How does this impact your life and your life of faith?
While you’re taking care of your group, we’re taking care of all the special touches that make for an unforgettable trip. We’re organizing Masses at all locations (even difficult-to-get places such as the tomb of Jesus in the Holy Sepulchre), coordinating unique events (such as getting tickets for the Papal Audience while in Rome) and adjusting itineraries on the fly with local guides and vendors so that things go as smoothly as possible. Meanwhile, you and your group are focused on making the most of your trip … as you should be!
Continuing the Pilgrimage at Home
A Catholic pilgrimage is not just a unique experience for the group going, it’s a special opportunity for your entire ministry. This group will come back with stories, experiences, and changed lives that will stay with them for months and years. And they will speak to, and live life with, others in your ministry as well.
To keep the pilgrimage alive:
- Continue to meet with your pilgrims as a group! After this experience and getting back into the grind of life, they will be hungry to reconnect with fellow pilgrims and relive their time traveling.
- Help your pilgrims translate the pilgrimage into their lives back at home. There is often a huge gap between the mountaintop experience of a pilgrimage and home base.
- Circle back on the intentions, goals, and special things people shared with you and the group over the course of the pilgrimage.
- Set up a gathering for your entire ministry or church. Share a bit about your trip, invite pilgrims to share the impact it had, and maybe even have some food from the destination you visited. Again, if you can’t do it in person, do it virtually.
- Share some of your own reflections of how you’re continuing to be impacted by the pilgrimage with your group. Even just a simple group email could be meaningful.
Like every other part of the pilgrimage, you don’t have to do this alone. Verso continues to send out resources and communications even after the pilgrimage is “over.” We always send out post-pilgrimage emails to the entire group that help people reflect on their journey and give them tangible ways to continue their journey. We gather up photos and videos of the trip and make sure everyone has access to them. And we often help with setting up reunions for pilgrims who want to relive the experience and get together as a group again.
There’s so much more that goes into planning a pilgrimage, but remember, you’re not alone. We’re with you every step of the way.
Even if you just want to start a conversation and see if a pilgrimage might be a good fit for your group, don’t hesitate to contact us. Check out our contact details below and shoot us a message by email or give us a ring!