There are lots of reasons to go on a pilgrimage, and many people feel spiritually called to go on one. But practically speaking, you’re probably asking, “What do you DO on a pilgrimage?” We’re glad you asked. If you’ve never been on a pilgrimage before, here are six things pilgrims do on their journey.
1. Experience Life and Travel to the Fullest
Many people think of pilgrimage as a super-serious, intense act of religious devotion. And of course, faith is an important part of any pilgrimage. But a pilgrimage is so much more than just a journey of faith. The fullness of pilgrimage is best found through experiencing a rich intersection of faith, culture, and history.
The way we see it, leisure travel only offers a narrow slice of life at a particular destination, while pilgrimage invites all of it in. On a pilgrimage, you can enjoy the cities, sites, and delicacies of a region while also celebrating the spiritual life God has given us.
On Verso pilgrimages, we visit not only significant sacred sites, but the places that make a destination what it is today. We celebrate Mass daily. We wander through shrines, cathedrals, and historical sites. We eat, drink, and discuss. We learn from expert guides and local hosts. We discover busy markets, serene landscapes, and in the midst of it all, a connection to the sacred that is new and exciting.
2. Seek Transformation
The goal of a pilgrimage is always personal change. And while it doesn’t initially sound like something you “do,” there are many ways that pilgrims can be active participants in spiritual transformation.
Pilgrimage asks us to start well before we step on the plane, and to prepare more than just our bags and passport. To get the most from a pilgrimage, you can take specific actions, like:
- Read about the historical and spiritual significance of the places you’re visiting
- Get clear on why you’re going and what you want to change as a result
- Write intentions to bring along
- Talk to your pilgrimage leaders and fellow pilgrims about your goals and expectations
Often, it’s easy to imagine travel as passive consumption of the sights, foods, and activities of each day. But a fuller, more life-giving way to travel is to join in as an active participant of every moment. Be all there during Mass. Engage prayerfully with the sacred sites and what they mean. Ask what these experiences mean for you in your own life. Talk through everything with fellow pilgrims. These actions are what lead to transformation.
3. Contemplate and Pray
A unique facet of a pilgrimage is the way intentional, quiet spaces are created in order for pilgrims to reflect and pray with God.
This reflecting is one of the most important acts of a pilgrimage. It’s why Verso intentionally puts time for it into our schedule. Contemplation isn’t a byproduct of pilgrimage, it is the pilgrimage.
It’s one thing, for instance, to quickly touch and move on from the place at the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born. It’s another thing entirely to pray and remember the significance of Jesus’s birth, all that the Blessed Virgin Mary endured and said “yes” to, and the miracle of that moment. There may be no better time to contemplate these things than at that very spot.
4. Lean in to Relationships
One of the underestimated aspects of a pilgrimage is going with a group. Your fellow pilgrims aren’t just along for the ride, they will become true friends and confidants if you’re open to it. Conversations on the bus or walking paths, praying together, and sharing your thoughts and emotions all add up over the course of a pilgrimage to create unique, special relationships.
A transformative experience is made all the more meaningful when it is shared. And while some aspects involve individual contemplation and prayer, much of the trip is spent doing things together. The more you lean in, the more these relationships will become one of the central joys of the journey. And when you return, you’ll be able to reach out to those you traveled with to relive the experience and confirm it really was as life-changing as you remember.
5. Expand your Perspective
Part of what it means to actively engage on a pilgrimage is to open yourself up to new ideas, cultures, and ways of being.
You can choose to evaluate things primarily through your own lens, or to listen and observe what’s around with curiosity. It can look like a whole range of things, from trying a dish you never thought you’d try (the whole fish in Israel are amazing), to rethinking what you believe about a culture, to seeing scripture in a whole new light.
The more you’re open to the process, the more you’ll see. It means asking questions of your tour guide, questioning your own thoughts, talking to the people you meet, and saying “yes” more often than you would normally.
6. Turn Difficulties into Opportunities
Jesus turned water into wine, Mary went all the way to Bethlehem while pregnant to be a part of a census and give birth to our Savior, and you can transform hurdles into moments of faith on a pilgrimage.
It’s one of the many ways pilgrimage is more than travel.
We may stay at premium hotels, dine at exceptional restaurants, and get insider access to some of the world’s most incredible holy sites, but our primary goal is neither comfort nor entertainment. Our goal is growth.
So when your flight is delayed or the tourists crowd you, the walking becomes demanding or you trip on a cobblestone, remember that one of the things you do on a pilgrimage is grow. You take a breath, you say thanks, you remember that God is ultimately in control.
There’s so much more to pilgrimage than these six things, but we hope you’ve gained a little more insight on what goes on during these spiritual journeys. Of course, the best way to find out what happens, is to see it for yourself! Check out these destinations and see where you might be headed next.